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.