This is a column I started  last weekend and it has simmered through a week that saw the Royals lose five straight in a myriad of different ways.   In the span of a week we saw Zack Greinke lose 1-0, the Royals come back from an 8-0 deficit and lose and then saw Greinke have the audacity to give up three earned runs and lose again.   In addition, we saw Gil Meche throw 128 pitches, Yuniesky Betancourt drop a pop fly and ended one game with Jose Guillen in rightfield and Mitch Maier at first base.

Is this really working or is it time for drastic action?  

Actually there has already been talk of such action.   The ‘trade Zack Greinke’ discussion following the 1-0 loss in Tampa.   While the idea of trading your team’s best player away does (and should) bring up plenty of emotions, one is forced to contemplate the worth of one player (no matter how great) when the team goes 1-6 in his starts.   Given what Greinke has done this year and in 2009, it is certainly NOT his fault the Royals cannot win, but it does not erase the fact that Kansas City is still just 18-22 in games he has started since the beginning of 2009.

Sure, the Royals are considerably worse in games not started by Zack, but the point is that they are not even a .500 team with him on the mound.  

This is not all about just chiming in on the Greinke trade discussion, however.  Instead, if the Royals decide to head down this path, shouldn’t they really look at making wholesale trades?  

If you are going to tell me that this lineup is going to compete in 2010, then this column is not for you.   Should you be in the camp that the current roster is going to be lucky just to stay out of last place, then you have to ask yourself just how far away is this organization?

Pitching wise, Greinke at the start and Soria at the end is a pretty good foundation for a staff, but how soon can the Royals fill in the gaps?  It is conceivable that we might see Aaron Crow later in 2010 and maybe Mike Montgomery sometime next season, but debuts and dominance seldom go hand in hand.   As such, I think a realistic expectation would be for a lot of promise to be seen later this year and through 2011 from both pitchers, with each ready to be above average to very good starters by 2012.     That year happens to be last year of Greinke’s contract.

So, in 2012, the Royals could field a rotation of Greinke, Crow, Montgomery, Luke Hochevar and somebody else.   The organization has a ton of arms in the system and some of the really good ones (Melville, Dwyer, Lamb, Herrera, etc.) will be about ready to make debuts right around then, too.   Heck, maybe Daniel Duffy will have rediscovered a love for the game and be ready to go, too.   Bottom line, the rotation could be pretty good, but on the verge of likely losing its ace at the end of the 2012 season.

The bullpen, with Soria under contract all the way through 2014, probably cannot help but be better.   One would hope that Blake Wood would be up and established well before 2012 with additional help coming from Louis Coleman, Greg Holland, Blaine Hardy, Patrick Keating – again, there are a ton of arms who have thus far enjoyed nice minor league careers.   I think it is fair to believe at least three of them will develop into competent major league relievers by 2012.

So, if the pitching looks good by 2012, what about the offense?  

The Royals have David Lough in Omaha, who is basically looking like the next David DeJesus and might be ready to fill that role next year.   Derrick Robinson is off to a nice start in AA, but does he profile out as much more than a faster, younger Scott Podsednik?     Basically, we can run through guys like this all day long and get a competent major league lineup:  the truth is, the offensive future of the organization lies on the shoulders of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers.   When will those three be up and, more importantly, when will they become good maybe great major leaguers?

Best case, in my opinion, has Moustakas making his major league debut at some point in 2011 and possibly ready to be good in 2012 and hopefully powerful in 2013.   Hosmer, who is showing that it helps to actually be able to see  and play without a broken finger, is probably a half-season behind Moustakas.  Myers is behind them both, but likely will gain some ground assuming he can handle the duties behind the plate.  That puts all three up and producing by 2013, which happens to be Billy Butler’s last year before free agency (barring a new contract for him prior to that point).

Let’s go back a bit and ask these two questions:

1.  Do you believe all of the above described development will happen?

2.  Are you prepared to wait until 2012 to be a legitimate contender and knowing that it might be a pretty narrow window of opportunity if Greinke leaves after 2012, Butler after 2013 and Soria after 2014?

Let me be honest, here, I don’t know my own answers to these two questions.  However, if the Royals are not going to be truly competitive until 2012, would it make sense for them to be competitive for a long period of time thereafter as opposed to go for broke in 2012 and maybe 2013?   If the answer to that is yes, then it might make sense for the organization to blow the current roster up.

Such drastic action starts with trading Zack Greinke.

What’s interesting about discussing such an idea is that there are some tremendous comparable trades that have taken place in the last year.   Cliff Lee has been traded twice and Roy Halladay has been dealt as well.   Now, I don’t want to turn this into a Greinke is better than Lee, Halladay is better than Greinke debate.   Suffice it to say that all three are among the top ten starting pitchers in baseball…maybe even the top five.      Halladay has the better career record, but is older and more expensive.   Lee is also older and was/is much closer to free agency.

At any rate, Cliff Lee was traded (along with Ben Francisco) in the middle of last season to Philadelphia for four of their top ten prospects (according to BaseballAmerica):   Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp.   I don’t have a good way of quantifying the value of Francisco in this trade, but let’s throw out Knapp (#10) from the equation and call it Lee for the first three.

After the season, the Phillies dealt Lee to Seattle for Phillipe Aumont (#3), Juan Ramirez (#5) and Tyson Gillies, a super fast outfielder with a .407 career on-base percentage at AA and below.    At about the same time, the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay (maybe you heard) and in exchange gave up their numbers five, six and seven prospects:  Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud.

No matter how you value age versus track record versus contract status, it seems pretty obvious to me that the market rate for an ace pitcher is at least three top prospects.   We could go back and analyze the Johan Santana and Erik Bedard deals, but I think we might come out in roughly the same place.   

I might be something of a homer on this one, but given Greinke’s age and reasonable contract through 2012, he might well command a fourth prospect in the deal and even, if the Royals were to take on more prospects that were in A ball and below, a possible fifth player.   

At any rate, we know that in dealing with prospects, one organizationa’s number two prospect is not always equal to the number two in another system.   Plus, where those prospects are in the system values into the equation as well.  All that said, let’s just have a little fun with some possible combinations.

Greinke to the Mets - With Beltran coming back in the next month or so, this team might be thinking they have a shot at the Phillies.   How would you like to run into a series where you had to face Johan Santana and Zack Greinke on back to back days?   Would New York give up number one prospect Jenrry Mejia, currently working out of the big league pen?   I don’t know, it’s hard to find a trade that involves anyone’s number one.   Let’s pull back from that and submit a package of Jonathan Niese (#5 and in the Mets’ rotation right now), the disappointing yet intriguing Fernando Martinez (#3, OF), Wilmer Flores (#2) an 18 year old shortstop with a ton of promise and something else out of their system.

Greinke to the Yankees - It is hard to have a discussion like this without talking about the Yankees, but it is hard to see a great fit, here.   Four of the top ten prospects in the Yank system are catchers and two others are pitchers who are struggling mightily.    Would they part with number one prospect and catcher/DH Jesus Montero?   A package starting with him and pitcher Zach McAllister (#4) would be a start, but I am not sure where it goes from there.  Maybe you add Brett Gardner, but you would still need a couple of players beyond that in my opinion.

Greinke to the Red Sox - If the Yankees are interested, you can bet the Sox will make a call or two as well.    If the bidding got heated enough, I would like a package of outfielders Josh Reddick (#3) and Ryan Kalish (#5), pitcher Casey Kelley (#2) and maybe, just maybe, you could get them to throw in infielder Derrick Gibson (#10).   That’s a decent haul, in my opinion, although getting four top ten prospects may be unrealistic…or maybe not enough.

Greinke to the Angels – They could certainly use some pitching help right now and might be willing to offer their number two, three and four prospects:  Peter Bourjos (OF), Mike Trout (OF) and Trevor Reckling (P).  Trout’s in the low minors and Reckling has some control issues, so the Royals would be right to demand more, but those three are a starting point.

Greinke to the Brewers – Yes, I know the Brewers don’t quite fit in financially with the above teams, but they have made this leap before and would be getting two and one-half seasons of Greinke instead of just half a year of Sabathia.  Would you make the deal if the Brew Crew offered second baseman Brett Lawrie (#2), catcher Jonathon LuCroy (#5), pitcher Zach Braddock (#7) and outfielder Lorenzo Cain (#8)?  

These are all just pie in the sky musings, keep in mind, and some of you will certainly tell me that none of these organizations would part with those players and others will be certain that none of the above deals are enough for Greinke.  That said, let’s pick one for the purposes of this discussion.

I am going to say the Red Sox get aggressive to both keep Greinke away from the Yankees and try to run down the Rays.    Sure, they already have moved Tim Wakefield to the bullpen and their number five starter is Dice-K, but can you imagine a rotation of Greinke, Beckett, Lester, Lackey and Buchholz?   Plus, the Sox could then spin one of their SEVEN quality starting arms for offensive help for the stretch run.

So, having moved Greinke for Kelley, Reddick, Kalish and Gibson, do the Royals stop?  In my opinion, if you are going down this road, you go down it at full speed.   That means trading Joakim Soria as well.

Here it gets pretty dicey as to what Soria is worth (I actually proposed a scenario of Soria to the Phillies last off-season) as there really are not a lot of trades that involve closers.    Brad Lidge and Jose Valverde were both dealt in the past couple of years, but both were on the verge of free agency.   Soria, on the other hand, is under team control at a reasonable value through 2014.

George Sherrill was dealt last summer and netted the Orioles the Dodgers’ number eight prospect, Josh Bell, and a journeyman minor league pitcher.   Listen, if George Sherrill is worth one prospect, Soria is worth at least two – even after giving up back to back homers to Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerroro.   While that might seem a bit light to most Royals’ fans, my guess is that is the market rate.   If we are blowing this team up, we might as well blow it up good.

Soria to the Cardinals -  Really, how in love can you be with Ryan Franklin as a closer?  Would a package of Allen Craig (#7, OF), Eduardo Sanchez (#6, P) and catcher Charles Cutler intrigue the Royals?  It intrigues me, a bit.

Soria to the Angels – Would the Angels part with Hank Conger?  No, but I’d do it in a heartbeat if they offered.  That said, Fernando Rodney would certainly look better setting up Soria than closing for a team that considers itself a contender.   With Peter Bourjos blocked by Torii Hunter, his name comes up again.  Paired with pitcher and number nine prospect Jordan Walden, plus another prospect in the 11 to 20 range and this deal could get done.

Soria to the Rays – The Tampa bullpen has been okay, with Rafael Soriano holding down the closer role.   However, when you are trying to stay in front of the Yankees and the Red Sox, the thought of Soria at the back end might be appealing.  The Rays probably will not part with Desmond Jennings, given the uncertainty of being able to resign Carl Crawford, but they might part with pitcher and number two prospect Jeremy Hellickson simply because they have no room in the majors for him this year.    Add power prospect Matt Sweeney (third base) and maybe infielder Isaias Velasquez and this might be a deal.

Again, this is all just speculation (even as I typed it, I wondered if the Rays would even consider giving up Hellickson), but lets have a little fun and say the Rays, desperate to hold off the Yankees, take the bait and ship Hellickson, Sweeney and Velasquez to the Royals in exchange for Soria.     Can you imagine the public outrage?

Outrage aside, the Royals now have seven new prospects, five of whom were in the top ten of two organizations that are far more successful than their own.    That just might make sense.   Of course, why stop now?

Even without taking the drastic action above, it is no secret that the Royals are shopping Jose Guillen, have shopped Alberto Callaspo, would shop Gil Meche and just recently began offering David DeJesus.   Until Meche is truly healthy and effective, his value is limited.   How to quantify Jose Guillen in a trade is problematical (maybe Seattle would offer Dan Cortes – just joking).  I think the possibility of Guillen ending up somewhere else sooner rather than later is realistic, speculating on the return is probably a waste of time.   Whatever the Royals get, they get:  it’s better than nothing.  

While David DeJesus is not going to garner a package of prospects like Greinke or Soria, he does have value.   Last summer, the Braves gave up two top ten prospects (Gorkys Hernandez and Jeff Locke) along with Charlie Morton to get Nate McClouth.   Now, McClouth is younger, has more power and a better defensive reputation than DeJesus, but we can maybe use this deal as a guide.   Would a desperate contender part with one top ten prospect (probably a few years away from the majors) and a lesser player?

DeJesus to the Giants – Have you seen what Mark DeRosa is hitting this year?   Would they give up a young arm, already in the majors, like Dan Runzler?   Would you make that deal?   Perhaps a more palatable (likely?) scenario would see the Giants give up shortstop and number eight prospect Ehride Adrianza along with pitcher Steve Edelfsen.   That’s a deal that I would do.

Now, we have moved three players for nine prospects.   Too much?  Too little?  Or do you trust the process?

When I take a step back and put on my optimistic glasses, I can see Montgomery becoming the next Greinke, backed by Aaron Crow.   When Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar move on, they are replaced by Tim Melville and Kelvin Herrera.   Alex Gordon flames out?  No problem, Mike Moustakas becomes a star.   Butler leaves?   Well, Hosmer is coming up soon:  bigger, better and faster than his predecessor.   David Lough and Derrick Robinson ably slip into the outfield next year, only to be pushed out a few years later by the even better Hilton Richardson and Alex Llanos.    That’s the process.  

The problem is, the process is run by guys who throw a struggling Gil Meche 128 pitches, move Alex Gordon to left and are scared to death that Kila Kaaihue might actually be able to hit major league pitching.   It is these guys that dismiss prospects with bad attitudes, but sign Jose Guillen for three years.    Mike Aviles had to hit .325 to get even get a chance and then, one year after an injury, prove himself all over again.   Can you trust a process run by people you no longer trust?

If you cannot or will not, then blowing up this team might be the best course of action.  If nothing else, nine more high level prospects gives this group a greater margin for error.    The way it is shaping up right now, the Royals can use all the margin they can get.