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Trade Retrospective: Brewers trade Zack Greinke to the Angels

It looks like the Angels paid a high price, but they prospects they traded away were high-risk players.

Milwaukee Brewers v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

A few days before the 2012 trade deadline, the Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Angels in exchange for a big package of prospects consisting of Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Peña. Also of note, the Brewers saved $5.15 million that was still owed to Greinke, per a report on ESPN.com.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Brewers had a great 2011 season. They won 96 games and comfortably won the NL Central by six games. They beat the Diamondbacks in an all-or-nothing gave five to advance to the NLCS, where they then lost to the eventual World Series champion Cardinals in six games.

Despite the loss of Prince Fielder in free agency, there was a lot to like about the Brewers headed into 2012. Their 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun successfully appealed his steroid suspension and the team was returning a lot of the same players that helped them win 96 games the year prior.

Zack Greinke was due for a lot of positive regression, as his underlying numbers indicated he was not getting the results he likely deserved. On the surface, it appeared that he had a disappointing first year in Milwaukee with a 4.30 RA9 and 1.5 bWAR. The truth is that Greinke pitched very well, he just had terrible luck when it came to home runs. Outside of his 2006 season when he barely played, Greinke’s 13.6 percent HR/FB ratio was the highest of his career. His excellent command did not take a year off, rather the problem was that Miller Park was a hitter-friendly home field, especially prone to home runs. Furthermore, Greinke led the league in strikeout rate that year. Those were factors in Greinke’s 3.24 DRA being so much lower than his run average.

Sure enough, Greinke’s results were much better in 2012. At the time of the trade, he had a 3.59 RA9 and his home run rate had come way down. Unfortunately, the Brewers were 44-53 and 13.5 games behind the first place Reds. Their season was effectively over and with Greinke on the final year of his contract, he was clearly not going to be a part of the Brewers’ future. Brewers management knew it was time to trade him.

Meanwhile, the Angels were enjoying the third-best record in the AL at 54-45. Unfortunately, they were still five games behind the first place Rangers, and the A’s were nipping at their heels. The AL playoff race was very competitive that year, so the Angels needed a real impact player to add precious extra wins to propel themselves in the playoffs and position their team as a postseason threat.

Trading three of your top ten prospects for two-plus months of Zack Greinke might seem excessive, but it was not that simple. in looking at Segura, Hellweg, and Peña’s potential, there was a lot of risk involved. Keeping Segura healthy was deemed a challange, Hellweg had terrible command, and Peña had seen his stock fall as a result of a loss of command with a strong likelihood he would end up being relegated to the bullpen.

Basically, these were low floor, high ceiling prospects, though despite that, it seemed a great return for a departing free agent. From then-GM Jerry Dipoto’s point of view, you can see the rationale for paying a high price for renting Greinke. Those extra wins could make all the difference in a pennant race and in a short series. Because there was plenty of risk involved in the departing prospects, it made the deal more palatable. With Mike Trout was in the midst of the greatest rookie season ever, it would have been a shame to waste an opportunity that was clearly in front of them.

The Results

Unfortunately, despite Dipoto’s best efforts, Trout’s historic season did go to waste. The AL West was just too competitive. The Angels’ 89 wins fell four games behind the Orioles and Rangers for the Wild Card. They were victims of an unbalanced schedule, as those 89 wins would have actually won the AL Central, yet they finished the season without a playoff berth.

Greinke continued to pitch well with the Angels. In 13 starts, he had a 3.53 RA9 and a 3.22 DRA. After the season, he decided to leave the Angels but stay in Los Angeles. He signed a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers.

The Dodgers enjoyed a great three-year run from Greinke. He made almost every start, had a 2.48 RA9, and accumulated 17.5 bWAR. That includes an epic 2015 season where we saw the return of peak-2009 Zack Greinke. He had a 1.74 RA9, 4.7 BB%, and 9.3 bWAR. It was perfect timing for Greinke’s opt-out.

Greinke signed one of the most lucrative contracts ever for a pitcher, a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks. He struggled in his first year in Arizona with a 4.54 RA9 and a sub-par strikeout rate. He bounced back big time last year, however, with a 3.56 RA9 while striking out about 27 percent of batters faced.

(As an aside, if Greinke has another season like 2017, he is going to merit some serious Hall of Fame consideration. If he has two more seasons that are at least as good as his 2017, I think he’ll be a lock.)

The Brewers finished 2012 at a respectable 83-79, but they have not made the playoffs since 2011. They have done an outstanding job of rebuilding without fully tanking, fielding decent teams, though it has not yielded any postseason fruit. They surprised everyone by winning 86 games in 2017, and after the big moves they have made this offseason, I am excited to see what they can do in 2018. Unfortunately, none of the players that the Brewers acquired in the Greinke deal will be impacting the current team.

Jean Segura was replacement level for the rest of 2012, but he lit the league on fire for the first two months of 2013. Through May, he hit .354/.393/.550. However, despite his excellent contact rates, Segura did not walk much and was benefiting from a .382 BABIP. He hit a lowly .261/.292/.354 for the rest of the year.

Segura just lost all ability to hit in the two years following. He hit only .252/.285/.331 during that time. His 65 wRC+ was second-worst only to Omar Infante over that two-year period. Segura also suffered the unspeakable tragedy of the death of his nine-month old son in July 2014.

I think that anybody can understand that Segura needed a change of scenery, so the Brewers traded him to the Diamondbacks before the 2016 season. He had the best year of his career there. He was moved to second base and hit .319/.368/.499. His 5.6 bWAR ranked sixth among NL position players. After that season, the Diamondbacks sold high on him in a trade to the Mariners in a reunion with Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto.

Segura regressed but continued to perform well, hitting .300/.349/.427, though he missed some serious time due to injury. Dipoto clearly believes in him, because he gave him a five-year, $70 million extension last June.

Johnny Hellweg made his major league debut in 2013, and it went very poorly. He had two four-game stints that year and had an 8.80 RA9 while walking everyone and striking out no one. It was the only major league action he ever saw. He bounced around to the Padres and even the Canadian League. The latest report on him is that he signed a minor league deal with the Pirates on August 25th of last year.

Ariel Peña did not make his major league debut until 2015. He was not bad with a 4.61 RA9 over six appearances and five starts. His command continued to be a big problem, though. His last major league appearance was a single relief outing in 2016 where he got lit up for three consecutive home runs. He has the ignominious distinction of becoming the first reliever to ever do that on Opening Day. He was released in August 2016. He spent last year in the Mexican league.

Angels Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Zack Greinke 0 1.4 $5.2
Baseball Reference, ESPN

The numbers might not be stellar given what the Angels paid, but what they were really paying for was the opportunity to run at a Wild Card slot. Unfortunately, they did not make it.

Brewers Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Jean Segura 6 4.8 $2.0
Johnny Hellweg 6 -1.2 $0.1
Ariel Peña 6 -0.1 $0.6
Total 18 3.5 $2.7
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

Remember when I said that these were high risk prospects? With the exception of Segura’s outstanding two months in 2013, none of these players surpassed the low floors projected for them. This trade was all upside for the Brewers, but sadly they never say any of that upside, and ended up with marginal players, none of whom positively impacted the team in any discernible way.

Despite the Angels depleting an already thin system for two-plus months of Greinke, the rationale for the trade was sound, and the trade was a no-brainer for the Brewers. Unfortunately, neither side got the results they were hoping for, but so it goes with many of these trades.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.