Alcides Escobar Rumors

Transaction Retrospection: The First Greinke Trade

Zack Greinke made quite a few headlines this offseason by becoming the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in Major League history (Felix Hernandez has since topped him). The former No. 6 overall selection in the draft signed a six-year, $147MM with the Dodgers.

Greinke has long been a high-profile arm, thanks largely to his 2009 American League Cy Young Award. His 9.3 wins above replacement (Fangraphs version) that season were the most by any pitcher since Randy Johnson's 2004 season.

So it's no wonder that Greinke had a long list of suitors when it became evident that the Royals were going to trade him. Nor is it surprising that Greinke commanded a young shortstop, a young center fielder and a pair of right-handers that had both been first-round picks.

On December 19, 2010, the Royals traded Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers in exchange for shortstop Alcides Escobar (24 years old at the time), center fielder Lorenzo Cain (24), right-hander Jake Odorizzi (20) and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress (23). Each player in the deal had recently ranked in Milwaukee's Top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. Let's take a look at each on an individual basis… Greinke

The Major League Side

  • Zack Greinke: Greinke joined Shaun Marcum as one of two offseason acquisitions for the Brewers that offseason, as the team clearly had an "all-in" mentality entering the final season of Prince Fielder's contract. He broke a rib that offseason playing basketball, limiting him to 171 2/3 innings, but he pitched to a 3.83 ERA with an NL-best 10.5 K/9 when healthy. The Brewers ultimately finished with a 96-66 record, netting them an NL Central Division title. Greinke got his only taste of postseason baseball that year but allowed an unsightly 12 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings. The Brewers lost in the NLCS to the Cardinals, who would go on to win the World Series. Greinke hurled 123 more innings for the Brew Crew in 2012, pitching to a 3.44 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 before being traded to the Angels. GM Doug Melvin landed Jean Segura, John Hellweg and Ariel Pena in that deal, but that's a whole different post.
  • Yuniesky Betancourt: Betancourt hit a paltry .252/.271/.381 with the Brewers but still totaled 584 plate appearances in spite of that sub-par production. His defense was also well below-average, and the result was a mere 0.4 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs. Betancourt did manage to swat 13 homers that season — the second-highest mark of his career — but his lack of plate discipline and poor glove mitigated most of that value. He would go on to re-sign with the Royals as a free agent the following offseason and is now in the Phillies organization as a non-roster invitee.
  • Alcides Escobar: Milwaukee's No. 3 prospect at the time of the trade (per BA) Escobar has blossomed into the Royals' everyday shortstop, posting fWAR marks of 2.2 and 2.6 in his first two seasons with Kansas City. He doesn't walk often (4.2 percent), but he's posted a respectable .274/.311/.368 triple slash line with Kansas City. That includes significant improvement from 2011-12, as his OPS+ jumped from 74 to 98 between the two years. He's developed into an elite base-stealer, collecting 61 swipes in 75 tries (81.3 percent). In 2012, he went 35-for-40 (87.5 percent). The Fielding Bible evaluates Escobar's defense at +12 runs during his time with Kansas City, while Ultimate Zone Rating feels he's been closer to average. Still just 26 years old, Escobar has room for growth.
  • Lorenzo Cain: Cain's arrival as Kansas City's everyday center fielder was delayed by the acquisition of Melky Cabrera. Groin and thigh strains have cost Cain 98 games between his two seasons with the Royals, but he looks poised to take the reins as the team's everyday center fielder in 2013. It's a small sample, but Cain has a .266/.315/.410 batting line in 267 plate appearances with the Royals. His seven homers and ten steals translate to a 162-game average of 17 homers and 25 steals — a well-above average combination of power and speed for a center fielder. In 726 1/3 career innings in center, UZR/150 rates him at 14.4 runs above average, and The Fielding Bible agrees at +15 runs. He's excelled in the Minors for the Royals and is in the midst of an impressive Spring Training showing, but he'll already be 27 on April 13. Kansas City needs to let Cain play in order to determine if they have a long-term piece this season.

The Prospect Side

  • Jake Odorizzi: Odorizzi made his big league debut for Kansas City in 2012, but totaled only 7 1/3 innings. Those will likely be the only innings he ever throws for the Royals, as GM Dayton Moore included the now-22-year-old in the James Shields trade. Odorizzi is BA's No. 92 prospect in all of baseball, and he ranks 45th on MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo's version of the same list. BA ranks him fifth among Rays prospects, praising his four average pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change-up) but noting that he lacks a true out pitch. Both BA and Mayo agree that Odorizzi has a chance to become a reliable No. 3 starter, but his ceiling is limited by average offerings across the board.
  • Jeremy Jeffress: Jeffress' star has fallen considerably since he ranked as BA's No. 100 prospect prior to the 2009 season. Now 25 years of age, the Royals traded him to the Blue Jays for cash considerations this past November. Jeffress pitched 82 innings for Kansas City's Triple-A affiliate and maintained his strong strikeout rate (9.3 K/9) but walked too many (4.7 BB/9) and allowed nearly a hit per inning as well. He received a pair of call-ups to the big league club but walked 24 batters in 26 2/3 innings. He has the potential to be a power arm late in games, but he'll now look to fulfill that upside elsewhere.

In the end, the Brewers got an ace-caliber pitcher and an NLCS berth in exchange for the four prospects they dealt. Greinke managed to net them a trio of prospects including a new, promising shortstop to replace Escobar. Kansas City turned Greinke into an everyday shortstop, a promising center fielder and a pitching prospect that helped them acquire a new ace-caliber pitcher (Shields). However, the Royals are better positioned to compete with this top-of-the-rotation arm than they were the last time they had one.

Both teams fell a bit short of their best case scenarios (Milwaukee didn't win a World Series, and Kansas City cut ties with Jeffress for next to nothing), but this is a trade that definitely reaped benefits for each side.

Baseball America's 2013 Prospect Handbook was used in the creation of this post. Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Royals, Mets Discussed R.A. Dickey

The Royals have talked to the Mets about R.A. Dickey as they continue to search for a top-of-the-rotation starter, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reported this week that the Royals have had discussions about trading Wil Myers for Jon Lester or James Shields.

The Royals aren’t looking to trade Myers and have no interest in moving Salvador Perez, Heyman writes. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are close to untouchable and the Royals aren’t inclined to trading Alcides Escobar, either. Instead, the Royals would prefer to send the Mets younger prospects in a deal for Dickey. 

If the Royals were to acquire Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young winner, he’d join Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana and others in Kansas City.

"Our rotation is going to better, but we're still looking for the opportunity to improve on what we've done,'' Royals GM Dayton Moore told Heyman.

The Royals seem interested in trading Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen. Doing so might free up salary for Moore, who now has up to $6MM to spend, according to Heyman.

The Mets have explored the possibility of a contract extension with Dickey, who will earn $5MM in 2013 before hitting free agency. If they trade the knuckleballer, they’d prefer a catcher and outfield help.


Passan’s Latest: Myers, Fowler, Asdrubal, McCarthy

The Royals have been shopping top prospect Wil Myers but only in exchange for starting pitching, reports Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.  Earlier this week, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reported that Kansas City was known to be at least listening to offers for Myers and top position players like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.  The only untouchable Royals appear to be Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez due to their team-friendly contracts — "executives consider [Perez's deal] the best in the game," Passan writes.

The Royals have discussed trades with the Rays, Mariners, Diamondbacks and Athletics, Passan reports.  While Myers would be of interest to any team, he is of particular value to low-payroll teams like the Rays and A's given that Gordon and Butler have large contracts and Moustakas/Hosmer are Scott Boras clients.

Here are some more items from Passan…

  • The Rockies' asking price for Dexter Fowler is "absurd," one rival executive tells Passan.  It appears to be a buyers' market for center fielders right now, though another executive warns that "it will shake out" as the offseason progresses.
  • The Indians are shopping Asdrubal Cabrera, though "not at Black Friday prices," an executive says.  Cabrera is one of a few shortstops on the trade market, along with the Astros' Jed Lowrie and the Marlins' Yunel Escobar.
  • Teams are more worried about Brandon McCarthy's history of arm injuries than with his season-ending brain surgery.  If McCarthy's medicals are clear, however, a team executive thinks the right-hander will get a multiyear contract.
  • Anibal Sanchez's demands for a six-year, $90MM contract are "crazy, and he's probably going to get it," an executive tells Passan.


Royals Extend Alcides Escobar

The Royals announced that they signed shortstop Alcides Escobar to a four-year extension through 2015. The deal with the Wasserman Media Group client includes club options for 2016 and 2017. The contract guarantees Escobar $10.5MM through 2015, Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star tweets. The shortstop could earn a total of $21.75MM if the Royals exercise both of their options.

Alcides Escobar - Royals

Escobar was on track for arbitration eligibility following the 2012 season, so the deal buys out his final pre-arbitration season and his three arbitration years. The club options cover Escobar's first two free agent seasons.

Escobar, 25, posted a .254/.290/.343 line in 2011, his debut season with the Royals. He posted similar offensive numbers in his first full season before being traded to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal. Considered an above-average defender, Escobar has a career UZR/150 of 5.9 at shortstop. 

As MLBTR's Extension Tracker shows, the Royals have extended pre-arbitration players aggressively under GM Dayton Moore. The club locked Joakim Soria up to a three-year, $8.75MM deal in 2008 and signed Salvador Perez to a five-year, $7MM deal earlier this spring.

Elvis Andrus, who has one more year of service time than Escobar, recently signed an extension valuing his three arbitration seasons at $14.4MM. Escobar's numbers are comparable to where Andrus' were a year ago, so it's fair to say the Royals could save as much as $4.5MM through 2015. There's always risk in locking young players up, since injuries can strike at any time. Perez, for example, will undergo knee surgery just weeks after signing his deal.

Shortstops Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki signed extensions as pre-arbitration eligible players in 2008, but they wouldn't have been comparables for the light-hitting Escobar. 

Photo courtesy Icon SMII.


Olney On Castro, Escobar, Wells, Pineda

The Red Sox should complete a seven-year extension worth $154MM or so with Adrian Gonzalez at some point in the next ten days, as ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reminds us. On a lighter note, Olney points out that Boston appears to be functioning despite a winless week for the Red Sox. Here are the rest of Olney’s rumors.

  • Starlin Castro has “made the adjustment” to the big leagues and is no longer phased to be playing at the highest level, Cubs GM Jim Hendry says. 
  • Another young shortstop, Alcides Escobar of the Royals, may be the best defensive shortstop in the American League, according to at least one scout. 
  • Angels fans may not like hearing it, but one evaluator says that in sending Mike Napoli elsewhere they “traded a player who would've given them similar production to what they'll get out of Vernon Wells , except it'll cost them about $75 million more." 
  • Instead of delaying Michael Pineda’s service time and/or arbitration, the Mariners called him up to start the season in Seattle. "He earned the right to be on the club," GM Jack Zduriencik said. "We actually talked about calling him up last September."

Royals Notes: Escobar, Cabrera, Ka’aihue

Royals GM Dayton Moore tells ESPN.com's Buster Olney that Alcides Escobar is different from some other players he has acquired in trades. Here are the details on Escobar and others in the Kansas City organization…

  • "Very rarely do you feel as good or better about a move after you get the player," Moore told Olney. But the Royals are happy with Escobar so far because he has been throwing well and making consistent contact at the plate. The Royals believe the shortstop has the potential to become a No. 2 hitter.
  • Melky Cabrera arrived to camp in good shape, but he isn’t guaranteed playing time. He, Jeff Francoeur, Kila Ka'aihue and Alex Gordon will all be competing for at bats.
  • As Olney reported yesterday, teams are expressing interest in Gordon, but Kansas City isn’t inclined to deal the former second overall pick because they think he could still flourish.
  • Though rival executives are in awe of Kansas City’s developing talent, the Royals want to see Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and others thrive in the big leagues before they get too excited.
  • Yahoo's Jeff Passan points out that Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projection likes Ka'aihue and projects a 25 homer, .860 OPS output from him in 2011. Ka'aihue says he doesn't really buy into the projections, but says he thinks the forecasted stats are plausible.

Brewers Acquire Zack Greinke

The Brewers entered this offseason with the goal of upgrading their rotation. Today, they acquired Zack Greinke, Yuniesky Betancourt, and $2MM from the Royals for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi. The Royals have confirmed the move in a press release. After already acquiring Shaun Marcum in exchange for Brett Lawrie last month, it's safe to say Milwaukee has accomplished its goal.

Greinke, 27, had been one of the winter's most discussed trade candidates, with rumors picking up steam after the right-hander requested a trade earlier this weekend. Although many clubs reportedly inquired on and pursued the Royals ace, a trade was no sure thing, due to Greinke's no-trade clause and the Royals' high asking price. However, neither issue ultimately proved to be an obstacle for the Brewers, who had made repeated attempts to acquire the righty despite being on his no-trade list, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter links).

During his time in Kansas City, Greinke posted a 3.82 ERA in 1108 innings, including a 3.25 ERA and 8.4 K/9 over the last three years. Prior to his Cy Young campaign in 2009, Greinke signed a four-year extension, meaning he'll remain under Milwaukee's control for two more seasons, at a cost of $13.5MM per year.

Escobar, who turned 24 earlier this week, was viewed by Baseball America as the Brewers' top prospect heading into the 2010 season, his first full year in the bigs. Although he struggled at the plate, hitting .235/.288/.326 in 552 plate appearances, Escobar provided above-average defense at shortstop, according to UZR. Baseball America's scouting report prior to the season dubbed Escobar a "defensive whiz" and a "special defender," while also citing a hope that he'd develop into a solid leadoff option. The 24-year-old's minor league numbers (.293/.333/.377, 176 SB) indicate that his offensive game should continue to improve at the major league level.

Cain, 24, was considered one of the Brewers' top 10 prospects even before a hugely successful 2010 campaign. After hitting .317/.402/.432 across two minor league levels, Cain received his first shot at the bigs, and posted a .306/.348/.415 slash line in 148 plate appearances in Milwaukee. Like Escobar, Cain's primary strengths are his speed and athleticism. Baseball America suggested before the 2010 season that he "could be a more prolific and successful basestealer," and Cain responded by stealing 33 bases in 37 attempts between the minors and majors. According to Baseball America, the former 17th-round pick shows "flashes of power but is mostly a gap hitter."

Both pitching prospects heading to Kansas City are former first round picks; the Brewers selected Jeffress with the 16th overall pick in the 2006 draft, while Odorizzi was taken 32nd overall in 2008. Jeffress' path to the bigs has been sidetracked by repeated suspensions for substance abuse. His most recent violation resulted in a 100-game ban that saw him miss significant chunks of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Jeffress' fastball has touched 100 mph and Baseball America raved that he had "as much sheer talent" as any player in the Brewers' system heading into this season, but his off-field issues and control problems (5.5 BB/9 in his minor league career) had slowed his development.

Odorizzi, meanwhile, was rated by some teams as the best high school pitcher in the 2008 draft, according to Baseball America. Just 20 years old, Odorizzi is the only player in the deal who has yet to see major league action, but he turned in an impressive year at Class A Wisconsin, recording a 3.43 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in 120 2/3 innings. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick notes in a tweet that the two right-handers were ranked first (Odorizzi) and third (Jeffress) in Milwaukee's system in Baseball America's upcoming Prospect Handbook.

The Brewers had long indicated a desire to shore up a starting rotation whose 4.65 ERA ranked near the bottom of the National League in 2010. Moving a handful of young players in two trades, while hanging on to Prince Fielder, suggests that the club feels they can immediately contend in the NL Central.

Credit Jim Breen of Bernie's Crew with the scoop last night, with an assist to Andrew Wagner of OnMilwaukee.com. ESPN's Buster Olney confirmed the story this morning, while Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus cleared up some conflicting reports and confirmed that Jeffress would indeed be included in the deal (via Twitter).

MLBTR's Luke Adams and Steve Adams contributed to this post.


Counsell May Sign By Monday

Barry Meister, who represents free agent infielder Craig Counsell, told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy that his client may have a deal finalized with the Brewers (or possibly another team) by Monday.  Milwaukee made an initial offer to the 39-year-old veteran on Dec. 4, and then reportedly upped it yesterday.  The conventional wisdom has been that Counsell will re-sign with the Brewers, given that he lives in the Milwaukee area and that both the player and team have seemed eager to work out a deal.  No dollar amounts have been mentioned, but it would surely be a raise from the one-year/$1MM contract that Counsell received from the Brewers last winter.  Despite Counsell's age, the offer may also be for more than one year in length.

Counsell has spent the last three seasons in Milwaukee and also played for the Brewers in 2004.  He hit .285/.357/.408 over 459 plate appearances in 2009, notching a career-high in OPS for a season in which he had more than 189 PAs.  Solid numbers aside, Counsell's value to the Brewers in 2010 will be to provide veteran leadership backing up the club's young infield corps of Mat Gamel, Alcides Escobar and Casey McGehee.

Should the talks between Counsell and the Brewers fall apart at the eleventh hour, we know that the Reds and Dodgers have also shown interest in the veteran utilityman.


Brewers Hope To Add Two Starters

Brewers GM Doug Melvin spoke to reporters today, and Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has quotes.  A few highlights:

  • Melvin feels that re-signing closer Trevor Hoffman early will aid the Brewers in attracting free agent starting pitchers.  Melvin hopes to add two starters.
  • When asked about trading Prince Fielder or Ryan Braun, Melvin responded, "I don't see that happening."  Might as well close the book on those rumors.
  • The Brewers view Rickie Weeks as their starting second baseman, which implies they'll let free agent Felipe Lopez leave. 
  • Melvin told Haudricourt it would "be very difficult" for the Brewers to keep both J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar.  Hardy could be a great pickup given the scarcity of shortstops.  Also, Haudricourt thinks Mat Gamel could be available in trade.

Brewers Face Plenty Of Roster Decisions

After a tremendous run last year that resulted in the club's first playoff berth in a quarter-century, the Brewers sat 13.5 GB of a playoff spot coming into today's action, and sport the National League's worst starting rotation thanks to their 5.22 ERA. As Adam McCalvy of MLB.com writes, the club has a ton of roster decisions to make this offseason, although GM Doug Melvin says "We've got a lot of decisions, and none of them will be discussed until the end of the season."

Some of the issues facing the Brew Crew this offseason are…

  • Impending Free Agents: Trevor Hoffman, Claudio Vargas, Mike Cameron, Felipe Lopez, Jason Kendall, Craig Counsell, Frank Catalanotto, and Corey Patterson will all be free agents after the season. The clubs holds a $3.7MM option for David Weathers next year ($400K buyout), and there's a $6.5MM mutual option for Braden Looper ($1MM buyout) that McCalvy says the club "will almost certainly pick up."
  • Arbitration Eligibles: Dave Bush, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, Seth McClung, J.J. Hardy, Jody Gerut, and Todd Coffey are all eligible for salary arbitration. Coffey, who's been the club's primary setup man, figures to get a nice raise over his current $800K salary.
  • Starting Pitching: As I mentioned earlier, Milwaukee sports the NL's worst starting staff. McCalvy reports that "Melvin promised this week that he would be much more aggressive this winter in his search for answers," and that the club might take a "little more chances and risks" than they're accustomed to taking.

The Brewers also have questions about the key up-the-middle positions. They have to sort out the Hardy-Alcides Escobar situation at short, and decide whether to try and retain Lopez or give Weeks another shot at second base duty. Cameron and Kendall have both made it clear they'd like to return, but those decisions will have to wait until the winter.

Milwaukee also must figure out third base, and whether Mat Gamel or Casey McGehee deserves the job. Prince Fielder has the other corner infield spot locked down, and is under contract for $10.5MM next year before being arbitration eligible in 2011, his final year before free agency. McCalvy also mentions that manager Ken Macha faces a lame-duck year next season, and that Melvin is fielding questions about whether another managerial change may be in order.