Braves should trade for Zack Greinke

Atlanta needs another starter, but at what price?

Macon TelegraphJuly 11, 2012 

So you’re Frank Wren, the general manager of the Atlanta Braves. You decide to pick up the phone and call Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin.

“Hey Doug, since you’re eight games out of first place, are you ready to part with Zack Greinke?” Wren asks.

“Yeah Frank, we are considering moving him since we just don’t think he’s going to re-sign with us this winter,” Melvin responds.

“OK, what do you want for him?” Wren asks, knowing the answer could be painful.

“How about to start, Minor or Delgado?” Melvin says, wanting Wren to answer for him.

What would Wren do? What would you do if you were in Wren’s shoes?

Undoubtedly, if this scenario occurs, it would not be an easy call for Wren. But this is the type of conversation he could probably have with Melvin or any other GM that has a pitcher available that might give the Braves a better chance at making the playoffs.

Greinke is going to be the top target for Wren. The Braves know Greinke has always wanted to play for them. He’s never hid that, even hanging around the Braves’ complex back in 2006 when he went AWOL from the Kansas City Royals during spring training. He didn’t do anything but watch a few spring training games, but the Braves knew he was there.

Greinke is going to want a lot of money this winter, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million a season. He’ll turn 29 in late October, so if you signed Greinke to a six-year deal for example, he’d finish the pact at 34 years old. That’s very similar to what the Braves did when they acquired Tim Hudson in 2004. He was 29 and turned 30 in the middle of his first season with Atlanta, and that was right when the Braves invested in Hudson to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.

The Braves need that again now. Hudson turns 37 next week, so he’s likely got only a year or two left. He’s still very good, but his days of being a number one may be numbered. Tommy Hanson is climbing the rotation order and is probably the best starter they have now, and there’s no doubt they need to consider making an investment in Hanson sometime soon.

But they need someone else who doesn’t have as many ‘ifs’ attached to their name. They need to surround Hanson with someone with a more certain track record, rather than young pitchers who might do this, or might do that. They need a pitcher who has had the type of success Greinke has had.

And the right-hander has been very, very good. Greinke won the Cy Young Award in 2009 with the Royals. Since he was traded over to the National League before the 2011 season, he’s gone 25-9 with the Brewers with a 3.63 ERA in 47 games. His other numbers, across the board, have been solid.

If you want to invest in a pitcher who could form a top duo with Hanson, Greinke is the guy. He wants to pitch here. He is from Orlando and still lives in Central Florida, so he’d be able to be at home during spring training. Sure, there still may be lingering questions about why he left the Royals like he did six years ago, but he’s answered most of the questions with the way he’s pitched.

Cole Hamels is going to get his money this winter. Hamels and Greinke are going to set the bar. Hamels is expected to go back to the west coast, where he’s from. Both will want close to the money Matt Cain will get from the San Francisco Giants over the next five years, which is in the neighborhood of $21 million per season.

Elite pitchers are going to want that much. Heck, if Hanson keeps pitching well, he might want that much in another year, especially with Scott Boras as his agent.

So Wren might believe he’d have the upper hand to sign Greinke for the long-term if he traded for him this summer, instead of waiting for the winter when he might get into a bidding war.

There also might be a bidding war in a trade for Greinke. The Angels were linked to him Tuesday. We’ve heard the Orioles, Rangers and Cardinals also interested in Greinke. So it’s not going to be easy to get him even if the Brewers decide to give up and trade him. But knowing Greinke has always wanted to play in Atlanta, the Braves must believe they’d have a better shot of locking him up if they get him sooner rather than going after him later.

It’s doubtful the Braves would get a window to try and re-sign Greinke before a trade could be completed. So if they did make a trade, it would probably be looked at, for now at least, as a rental. The Braves will want to get him signed for the long-term, but there might be no guarantee.

What would you, if you were in Wren’s shoes, give up to rent Greinke for three months and possibly have the upper hand to have him sign a new contract?

Melvin would be nuts not to ask for either Minor or Delgado. They are in the major league rotation now. They have both pitched brilliantly at times, and they have both pitched like they belonged back in the minor leagues at times. They are young, and they have showed it.

But if you’re the Brewers, and you know you’ve got to replace Greinke, getting an arm like Minor or Delgado would be a coup. They would get a younger piece that could help the rotation now and later. It would be a cheap pitcher, which would allow them to use Greinke’s money in other areas.

Who would you prefer to give up – Minor or Delgado – for Greinke? Well first, let’s look at what the Braves would be left with if they got Greinke.

They’d have Greinke, Hanson and Hudson as their new big three for the rest of the season. If they do re-sign Greinke for the long-term, that would lock down 20% of the rotation for the next five or six years. Hanson is under control for three years after 2012, so while he’ll be getting expensive starting this winter with arbitration, he could be here through 2015.

Hudson has a reasonable option for 2013 for $9 million, with a $1 buyout if the Braves want to instead move on. Hudson will have ankle surgery this winter, and there’s no doubt he’s breaking down a bit physically. But this guy has proven even in the last two months, as he bounced back from back surgery last winter, that he can still pitch. Since Hudson is pitching at home, he’s likely to prefer to finish his career with the Braves. Can they get two more years out of him? I say yes, even if he’s going to become more of a number three starter instead of a number one or two.

Ben Sheets is now a wildcard in this equation. He’ll likely make his Atlanta debut this weekend. Who knows – maybe this is just a Band-Aid for the rest of the season. Or maybe if Sheets does well the rest of the year, the Braves will want to bring him back for at least next season. It’s just a big unknown that could go either way.

It’s difficult, at least right now, to believe Sheets can be an option for 2013 or beyond. It would be great if he did so well the Braves would want to bring him back next year, but we have no idea, at least not yet, of what to expect from Sheets when he takes the mound for the first time in two years this weekend.

Then there’s the Jair Jurrjens situation, and we all know it is a situation. The guy has done well since he came back from Gwinnett. Jurrjens has an ERA of 2.13 in his four starts since his return. Is Jurrjens fixed? Is he back to what he was a year ago, when he should have started the All-Star game over Roy Halladay?

Or even if Jurrjens continues to pitch well now, is he going to disappear in September? Remember, the last two years the Braves have been in a pennant race, and in both seasons Jurrjens has been missing in action. They would like to see if he can continue to pitch well and finally pitch in a pennant chase.

But Jurrjens is one year away from free agency. It’s unlikely, unless Jurrjens just stays on a roll the rest of the season, that Atlanta would want to invest in him for the long-term. The injuries Jurrjens has had and the inconsistency he had this season might have scared them off from that possibility.

So Jurrjens, in a way, is as big of a question mark as Sheets. It’s hard to count them out of the future, but we’ve got to see much more before believing either pitcher is going to be part of the upcoming rotations.

Brandon Beachy will be back next summer, but he’ll be coming off Tommy John surgery. That’s yet another question mark. The success rate of TJ surgery is great, but you have to treat each case individually. It’s easy to believe Beachy will come back and do as well as he was doing before he got hurt, but that might take time. He might not get back to that point until the beginning of 2014 for all we know.

Julio Teheran is definitely in this conversation. He’s still regarded as one of the best young pitching prospects in the game. There is no doubt, however, that Teheran does not need to return to Triple-A in 2013 for a third season in Gwinnett. Teheran either needs to get traded this summer or this winter to another team, or be penciled in as a starter for Atlanta next season.

There are a couple of other minor league options to keep in mind. Todd Redmond continues to do well in Gwinnett. If you needed a fifth starter next season, Redmond would probably hope to be in a competition. Sean Gilmartin is an older college pitcher who is doing very well in Double-A Mississippi this season. Gilmartin could be ready to contribute sometime next season in Atlanta. Zeke Spruill is also doing well in Mississippi, but he’ll definitely need at least another full season in the minor leagues.

Don’t forget about Arodys Vizcaino. He’ll also be back from Tommy John surgery next March. The Braves had moved him to the bullpen before he got hurt, and many believed that was to help him avoid the elbow surgery. Now that he’s had it, the chance is there for Vizcaino to once again be a starting pitcher. It might not happen overnight, but if he does well, Vizcaino could give the Braves another option for the rotation down the road.

Oh yeah, let’s don’t leave out Kris Medlen. He could always be a starting pitcher again if needed.

That’s a lot of names – Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, Sheets, Delgado, Minor, Teheran, Redmond, Gilmartin, Spruill, Beachy, Vizcaino and Medlen.

So if you’ve got to trade one of those names, particularly either Delgado or Minor, for a chance at improving the quantity of the quality, you do it.

But which one do you trade – Delgado or Minor?

You could take the approach that if you traded Delgado, he could be replaced by Teheran in next year’s rotation, and also that you would be pretty much replacing Delgado in the rotation by Greinke.

The leg up Minor might have on Delgado is that he’s left-handed, and of the 13 names mentioned above, only Minor and Gilmartin are southpaws.

Now, as a sidebar, let’s look at the financial impact of Greinke possibly costing the Braves upwards of $20 million per season.

The Braves will have the following money coming off the books after the 2012 season:

$14 million – Chipper Jones
$10 million – Derek Lowe (don’t forget about him)
$6.845 million – Michael Bourn
$2 million – Matt Diaz
$1.625 million – David Ross
$1.6 million – Eric Hinske
$1 million – Jack Wilson
$0.9 million – Chad Durbin
$37.97 million - TOTAL

The following players might be non-tendered, freeing up additional money:
$5.5 million – Jair Jurrjens

The Braves have options on the following contracts for 2013:
$9 million – Tim Hudson
$12 million – Brian McCann
$21 million – TOTAL

So let’s assume for a moment that Jurrjens is either non-tendered or traded away, which would make the total amount coming off the books at $43.47 million.

If the Braves gave Greinke a six-year, $120 million contract, that would be for $20 million per season. Then you could say Greinke’s $20 million dollars per year would, in effect, replace Jurrjens’ $5.5 million dollar deal, for a net gain of $14.5 million. Then that would leave $23.47 million to replace those other seven players who could leave as free agents.

Let’s throw this scenario out there. What if, and it’s a big ‘if,’ Sheets did so well in the second part of the season that it might make more financial sense to buy out Hudson’s option for $1 million and sign Sheets to a one-year, $4 million dollar contract and have Sheets replace Hudson in the 2013 rotation.

That could save an additional $4 million, after you pay Hudson’s buyout. Then you might have $27.47 million available after you have given Greinke the big $20 million per year contract.

McCann’s situation is also interesting. What if the Braves preferred to give the amount of money McCann is due to make next season ($12 million) to Bourn? What if the Braves were afraid to give McCann a new long-term contract because of his age (he’ll be 29 next February) and with giving a deal near what St. Louis gave Yadier Molina ($15 per season) would be dangerous with McCann getting into his 30s?

Then you could get a cheaper catcher to be a stopgap until Christian Bethancourt would be ready in 2014, and Bourn would get the money near $12 million instead of McCann, who would then be traded for cheaper players (that might include yet another pitching prospect and cheaper position players).

Remember, the Braves will have to give raises to Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward, and Martin Prado next season – among others. Hanson and Heyward will be arbitration-eligible for the first time, and Prado will enter the last year of his contract. It seems obvious that one of the biggest options for the Braves for 2013 will be to put Prado at third base, replacing Jones, and then going after a veteran left fielder. Atlanta may also decide to give Prado a long-term deal, since finding a long-term third baseman outside of the organization might be tougher than expected.

So the point is there will be financial flexibility to invest a huge contract in a pitcher like Zack Greinke. A rotation of Greinke, Hanson, Hudson, Minor and Teheran would still be fairly affordable – maybe in the $33.5 million area. That’s a little more than one-third of the projected 2013 budget. Replace Hudson with Sheets for the predicted amount and it could be below $30 million, which would free up even more money to get the position players straightened out.

Back to the phone call. Melvin tells you he wants either Delgado or Minor and maybe another secondary prospect to ‘rent’ Greinke for three months. If you’re Wren, you make it happen. Getting Greinke would give the Braves an even better shot at making the playoffs this season, and it would also give the team a potential ace for the next five years – along with a great duo at the top of the rotation (Greinke & Hanson).

Sure, giving up either Delgado or Minor for three months of Greinke would be a gamble. But you would be going for the playoffs, and that’s what these trades are all about. Would Greinke in the rotation give the Braves a better chance? Absolutely. Would Greinke likely give Atlanta more quality starts compared to the pitcher he would be traded for? Absolutely.

So you do this trade every day of the week. Give the Brewers Delgado, Spruill and a lower grade position prospect. Then you invest in Greinke and you make the tough decision of what happens between McCann and Bourn, and you better believe it could simply come down to deciding between those two players for another investment for the next five years (which is another column for another day).

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.  Follow Bill on twitter @BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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