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The Rangers and Greinke, Plus Thoughts on Maybin and Miller

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It's Tuesday morning, which means I have a site visit for class (ugh...), but luckily it also means another edition of Tuesday Trade Talk for everyone else.

Exit Cliff Lee, Enter Zack Greinke?

We've already heard word that the Blue Jays and Red Sox have inquired on Kansas City's ace, and presumably other teams will have interest in the 2009 AL Cy Young winner as well. But most people in the industry seem to be handicapping the Texas Rangers as the favorite to land the right-hander, particularly if they fail in their pursuit to re-sign Cliff Lee. Greinke is capable of blocking trades to 15 teams as part of his current contract, which will pay him $27 million through 2012 before he hits free agency, and there's been some talk that he'd rather not pitch in a big market, particularly on the East Coast.

That has the Rangers, coming off an AL pennant with an abundance of talent and money, looking like the best potential landing spot. But how would the teams match up in terms of talent? And how would adding Greinke compare to retaining Lee? These are questions that Jon Daniels and company will presumably answer long before having any sort of serious discussions with the Royals, but they're the questions we're going to touch on today.

Greinke v. Lee

On one level, you have to wonder whether the Rangers would be better off trading for Greinke or trying to sign Lee. The question isn't so much about whether Greinke or Lee is the better pitcher at the moment. Rather, the question is something along the lines of, "Would you rather have Lee under contract for five years at $25M per year (my estimate) along with your young talent, or would you rather have Greinke under contract for two years at $13.5M per year without that additional talent?"

It's fair to say that, at the moment, Lee is the superior pitcher. He's been a roughly 7-win pitcher in each of the past three seasons, while Greinke has two 5-win seasons and the historic 9-win season. So we have a somewhat clear idea of what Cliff Lee is going to be in the next couple seasons, but with Greinke we're not really sure if he's going to show up as the 5-win ace from 2008 and 2010 or something near the 9-win monster from 2009. They've each been quite durable, so that's not the major concern- from 2008-2010, Lee averaged 223 innings per season while Greinke averaged 217 innings. But you really can't deny how age could play into this thing. Lee is five years older than Greinke, so committing five years to the 32-year-old lefty is undoubtedly a larger risk than going for Greinke. Lee's likely to be better next season, but can we really say the same thing for 2012, when Lee will spend the final few weeks of the year at age 34 while Greinke is still just 27?

Really, what you're looking at here is money- is spending the extra $11.5M in 2011 and 2012, plus $25M per year in 2013, 2014 and 2015, worth retaining some key pieces of your farm system, along with the short-term upgrade from Greinke to Lee? It really depends on how you picture Lee's aging process. If the Rangers believe that Lee isn't going to show significant signs of decline for the vast majority of a five-year contract, then why would they go out of their way to trade top young talent for the less experienced guy coming off of a weaker season? But if they have any reservations about Lee's ability to be an elite starter throughout the contract, it may be more reasonable for the Rangers to take advantage of their farm system and trade for the younger, cheaper Greinke. Because while the Rangers certainly are making a clear effort to win in the short-term, being forced to pay $25M for a non-elite starter in 2014 or 2015 could seriously hinder their ability to contend as some other guys get more expensive, too.

A Possible Deal

Okay, so let's say the Rangers have decided to pursue Greinke. Heck, maybe after watching San Francisco's top starters embarrass some of the best teams in the game, they've decided that they can fit both Greinke AND Lee into the budget in order to build their own dominant rotation. But we're talking about what a reasonable deal would look like, assuming that Dayton Moore doesn't go all "Nunez-for-Jacobs" on us again.

The Royals GM has made it pretty clear that the asking price on Greinke is going to be high. ESPN reported that the Royals wanted multiple front-line young players, including a pitcher with Greinke-like upside, while Moore told the Kansas City Star that the right-hander won't be dealt unless the team is blown away. So the Rangers aren't going to get this guy by giving up one really good prospect and a couple of throw-ins, Kansas City is expecting a pretty good return for their ace.

But what exactly would an offer look like? Presumably it would start with 19-year-old lefty Martin Perez, the team's top pitching prospect and one of the few pitchers in the league that has legitimate ace-upside. He's pretty much exactly the kind of high-upside young pitcher that the ESPN report alluded to, and he would give the Royals another young lefty with big-time potential to go along with Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer.

The Royals will presumably want another impact-quality prospect on top of that, which means either reaching for the sky and asking for shortstop Jurickson Profar, who was recently ranked as the team's top prospect by John Sickels, or going for a somewhat lesser name like pitchers Robbie Erlin (No. 3 on John's Top 20) and Tanner Scheppers (No. 4), third baseman Mike Olt (No. 5) or outfielder Engel Beltre (No. 6). Beltre's upside is undeniable and his athleticism would definitely appeal to the Royals, while Erlin, Scheppers and Olt have more limited potential but seem more likely to cash in on their talent. Another possibility would be offering up a pitcher from the MLB team, with lefty Derek Holland presumably being of particular interest to the Royals.

But that's really only the beginning of the package. If they're willing to give up two of Perez, Profar and Holland, finding the additional pieces to shore up a deal wouldn't seem to be that difficult. But if the Rangers are only willing to offer, say, Perez, Beltre, right-hander Michael Kirkman and shortstop Luis Sardinas, then I'm not sure that Moore and company would classify that offer as blowing them away. There's a ton of risk in that kind of offer, and you have to wonder if Moore would be willing to take a deal that doesn't ensure him some sort of MLB return.

Here's one possible suggestion from me, though: Perez, Beltre, Sardinas, Robbie Ross and Tommy Hunter for Greinke. The Rangers get Greinke without giving up Holland or Profar, which is basically a win for them. The Royals don't get either of those guys, but they get some undeniable upside along with a young starter that can immediately replace Greinke in the rotation. Perez is the high-upside arm they reportedly are seeking, Beltre could be an elite prospect with some adjustments (and he's made them in the past), Sardinas is only 17 but has huge potential, Ross is a good arm that made some nice adjustments in the California League even though his ERA would say otherwise, and Hunter may simply be a back-of-the-rotation arm but the Royals are going to need a couple of those guys to eat up innings until their stable of young pitchers is ready for the majors. What are your thoughts on this offer? Too much going to Kansas City for two years of a well-paid starter? Texas not giving up enough for one of the few truly elite pitchers in the game? I'd love to see what some others think about this.

Miguel Cabrera >> Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller >> Four Relievers

In the end, the Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis for what amounts to four relievers: Burke Badenhop, Dustin Richardson, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica. There really couldn't have been a worse outcome for the Marlins, although I suppose Mike Rabelo could have stopped catching and convinced Miami and Miami-Dade County to turn down the Marlins' stadium proposal or something.

But for now, let's just ignore that the two guys Florida just traded were once the centerpieces of a trade in which they gave up one of the best young players in baseball, and look at these deals purely from a "now" perspective. We'll start off with the deal that I liked more for Florida, the Miller-for-Richardson swap. Miller's out-of-options and would have likely been non-tendered by Florida later, so while the 25-year-old is still loaded with upside, it's easy to see why the Marlins opted to get value for him now while they could. Considering how likely it was that Miller would end up getting non-tendered, landing a 25-year-old left-handed reliever with a track record of missing bats (albeit with some walks) isn't a bad return.

For Maybin, on the other hand, the return isn't nearly as satisfying. It's not that the Marlins didn't get anything in return- both Webb and Mujica are talented relievers and Webb appears to have some late-inning upside. But when you're trading a 23-year-old center fielder with Maybin's tools, defensive reputation and lack of service time (he doesn't hit free agency until after 2015), one would generally hope to land more than a couple of cheap bullpen arms. The deal isn't so much a bad deal for Florida as it's a great find by San Diego, given that Florida could really use some bullpen help and if any team can afford to give up some relievers, it's San Diego. But you really do have to wonder why Florida felt so compelled to give up on Maybin now with such a weak array of alternative options (namely, Scott Cousins, Emilio Bonifacio and Bryan Petersen), only to land a couple of bullpen arms.