In his RAB debut, Moshe wrote about the difficulties of trading for an ace. Issues such as service time remaining, rarity of elite talent, and fan perception play a role in these negotiations, and often render them fruitless. But, as he notes at the end, there is some hope for the Yankees to find a pitching upgrade on the trade market: “there [is] a bevy of second-tier pitchers nearing the end of their contracts, all of whom could likely be had for the right price.” Today, however, we’ll start with one such pitcher who has been, and still could be, an ace. That’s Zach Greinke of the Milwaukee Brewers.
A year ago the Royals put Greinke on the market after he requested a trade. Apparently he could no longer stand the constant losing in Kansas City and wished to pitch for a contender. That made the Yankees instant suitors, but they never made a serious play. Milwaukee swooped in and grabbed him, and the move paid off wonderfully. He produced a season that in many ways resembled his 2009 season, during which he won the AL Cy Young Award. Without an early-season injury (only 171.2 IP), and with a little more help from his defense (highest BABIP since 2005) and some better results on fly balls (highest HR/FB ratio of his career), his season might have looked a lot better than his 3.83 ERA might indicate.
When the Brewers acquired Greinke last season they were in the process of assembling a winner for 2011. With Prince Fielder just a year away from free agency they decided to go for it, trading many premium prospects for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and then Francisco Rodriguez mid-season. Fielder is now a free agent, and while I think the Brewers could still retain him it’s far from a certainty. There’s a decent chance that they’re shut out of the top free agents, which could leave them in a bind. Both Greinke and Marcum hit free agency after the season, so if they don’t think they stand a good chance to contend in 2012 they could use one, or both, to further stock the farm system and reload for 2013.
While I consider these chance slim, the Yankees would certainly have to look into Greinke if Milwaukee made him available. In fact, late last week Vizzini at NoMaas made a case that the Yankees should make a run at Greinke. While I’m not totally on board with the idea — Nova starting the conversation — that’s mainly because of my “your trade proposal sucks” mentality. Really, the Yankees have a few chips, Nova included, who could provide the Brewers with steady value for five to six seasons. The Yankees would cash in that long-term value for a quick burst of Greinke, who could be worth six to eight wins in 2012.
Before hitting the pros and cons, I want to make clear that I do not see this happening. When I predicted the top 50 free agents I not only had Fielder returning, but also Aramis Ramirez coming over to play third base. That is, I think the Brewers make a splash again this off-season, with Greinke and Marcum approaching free agency, and then use their farm system to reload for 2013 and beyond. But if they do lose fielder and decide to begin that reloading process a year early, the Yankees should absolutely be in on Greinke.
- He is absolutely an elite pitcher. While he disappointed in some ways following his 2009 AL Cy Young Award, he still put up peripherals better than most of his peers. Since 2009 he ranks fourth in the majors in FIP, fourth in xFIP, and, despite missing more than a month in 2011, sixth in WAR. The only place he falls short is ERA, but he’s had to deal with some poor defenses the last few years.
- He misses bats, which is something the Yankees could use. In his career he has averaged eight strikeouts per nine innings, and in the last three years he has struck out a batter per inning.
- He doesn’t walk guys. His 2.19 BB/9 since 2009 ranks 12th among all qualified starters. That’s even better than CC Sabathia, who ranks 30th with 2.58 BB/9. The Yankees would then have two high-strikeout, low-walk pitchers heading their rotation.
- Last year, when seeking a way out of Kansas City, he reached out to the Yankees and expressed a desire to pitch in New York. That runs counter to one of the Cons listed below, but it’s pretty clear that the guy values winning above all else.
- He’s durable. He pitched at least 200 innings from 2008 through 2010, and only missed the mark this year because of an injury suffered while playing basketball. If he can stay off the court, he appears capable of staying on the mound.
- His disdain for the media can provide some interesting quotes and situations. It means zero for his on-field value, but it can provide some entertaining moments — a la Mike Mussina, perhaps.
- It had to come up at some point, so let’s lead the Cons section with Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. It’s a well-known issue, though it’s tough to see how it has affected his performance since he returned to the mound in 2007. There will always be a faction of fans who think that his SAD will prevent him from pitching under the bright lights at Yankee Stadium, but that’s mostly armchair psychology. Only Greinke, and perhaps his doctor, knows if he can handle it.
- For two straight years he’s had an ERA significantly higher than his FIP. There can be a number of reasons for this, but his strand rate stands out. He produced his two worst marks in 2010 and 2011. This probably isn’t a problem going forward — remember, he had some crappy defenses behind him — but it’s a red flag nonetheless.
- Normally a bullet list should contain three points, but it’s hard to find negatives about Greinke. Maybe he continues to have a homer problem in Yankee Stadium after experiencing issues in Milwaukee. I dunno, if you want to crucify him for 16.2 playoff innings there’s that. But then again he pitches well against the Red Sox, in more career innings, so what are ya gonna do?
Chances are Milwaukee hangs onto Greinke and does battle again in the NL Central. After all, it’s not the strongest of divisions even if the World Champions play in it. But if they do lose Fielder and don’t sign an adequate replacement, they could look to move Greinke in advance of his free agency. If he does hit the market he could be a perfect fit for the Yankees.