As Royals’ fans, we are a jaded group.   That has never been so evident as the immediate reactions that were voiced and written as we all got wind of the trade of Zack Greinke to the Brewers.   Primarily, the return was widely disparaged simply because, well, because it was the Royals getting the return.  

With this organization’s track record, over multiple owners and general managers, who can argue with the logic that if the Royals traded an elite player whatever they got back must have been a bad deal.   Going off the top of my head and without getting into a debate over who was ‘elite’ and who was not, here is a partial list of players the royals have received:

Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, Keith Miller, Chris Stynes, David Sinnes,  Tony Medrano,  Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, Brad Rigby, Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Roberto Hernandez (an OLD Roberto mind you), Nefii Perez, John Buck, Mark Teahan, Mike Wood

Given that list, I get the skepticism.   I also understand the concerns that Dayton Moore, like Allard Baird before him, limited the market by insisting on ‘up the middle major league ready talent’.    It might well be that some teams gave up early or never called to inquire on Greinke figuring that they did not have those type of prospects.   How would the above list look if Robinson Cano was there instead of Mark Teahen?

However, Moore was also at times said to be looking for a major league ready pitcher with ‘Greinke-like’ potential as part of any deal.   While I think Jake Odorizzi might some day be very good, no one is expecting him to become an ace.   So, it seems that the Royals at least were willing to entertain offers that were not exactly in line with their supposed demands.    I wonder just how much of the market really was excluded?

We know that the Washington Nationals had an offer out there and that Zack refused to waive his no-trade clause to them.   Talented reliever Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa were supposedly part of the deal, but it is unclear if Jordan Zimmerman was and who else might have been  involved.   What we do know is the deal that actually took place and the waves of angst that followed.

Ignoring the casual fan, the ones that lamented Jose Guillen being traded, there was still a pretty wide swath of ‘the Royals didn’t get near enough’ pasted across the Internet.   Alcides Escobar can’t hit, Lorenzo Cain has limited upside, Odorizzi is ‘fine for A ball’ and Jeffress likes the happy weed too much.  Given the above few paragraphs, I can understand the immediate swing to the negative, but it sure seems to be getting a little annoyed.   I say that, by the way, fully cognizant that our own site and myself have certainly beat the Royals’ organization over the head more often than not, but then it’s not like those opportunities have been hard to come by the last ten years.

Prior to the 2010 season, Alcides Escobar was the Brewers’ number one prospect (according to Baseball America), while Lorenzo Cain was number eight, Jake Odorizzi was number nine and Jeremy Jeffress was thought to have the best fastball in that organization.   Of course, an entire season has transpired since those rankings were made and one of the worst things a top prospect can do to hurt his reputation is to, you know, play games.

Beyond that, the four players fit the stereotype of so many others brought in by Dayton Moore:  two position players known for their speed and two pitchers who feature a fastball and a curve.   We have heard those traits a lot in the past and been disappointed more often than not.   That said, some guys who can really run, can also really play baseball and some pitchers (a lot actually) have good careers throwing fastballs and curves.

While the full impact, positive or negative, may not be known until Odorizzi makes the majors in a couple of years and Jeffress has hopefully managed to stay clean AND be a power reliever for a period of time, I am going to focus this morning on the two position players.     These are the two guys that are going to be the ones dealing with the Perez/Teahen/Berroa/Buck comparisons and also the two were are going to see the most of the soonest.

Next to Billy Butler batting third, Jeff Francoeur playing right field and Joakim Soria closing, the surest thing about the 2011 roster is that Escobar will be playing shortstop.   Alcides Escobar had, without question, a pretty awful rookie season.    The defensive abilities he showed in the minors surfaced in his rookie season as flashes of brilliance interspersed with bouts of inconsistency.  That said, Escobar’s UZR/150 of 4.7 still ranked eighth out of twenty-one qualified shortstops in the majors.   Defensive metrics over just one season can be wildly inaccurate, so Escobar is something of an unknown quantity in this area, but his minor league career was generally one in which scouts, prospect analysts and the Brewers’ organization wondered if this great defender could hit enough to justify a job.    For now, I feel pretty confident that Escobar either already is or will shortly become the best defensive shortstop to play for the Royals since the turn of the century.

Of course, the days of the defense only shortstop are long since past and there are questions about Escobar’s offense.    He hit just .235/.288/.326 last season for a paltry OPS+ of just 67.   Some of that was due to an unlucky .264 BABIP, but much of Alcides’ problems were an inability to control the strike zone and work the count to his advantage.    Tough rookie year or a guy who cannot hit major league pitching?

It is worth noting, however, that Escobar’s best minor league seasons at the plate occurred as he reached the higher levels of the minors.    After three fairly poor offensive years his first three years in pro ball, Escobar hit .325/.345/.377 in half a season in High A before moving to AA ball, where he struggled some.   However, in AA the next season, Alcides hit a very good .328/.363/.434 and then moved onto AAA the next season where he hit .298/.353/.409.    During his one AAA season, Escobar walked 32 times in 487 plate appearances versus 31 in 110 more plate appearances the year before in AA.   Hey, the guy is not a walk machine, but he improved from AA and AAA.

In the end, Alcides Escobar may never consistently hit to his minor league career line of .293/.333/.377, but I think there is a better than reasonable chance that he will hit better than the frankly awful rookie season numbers of 2010.   Can Escobar ever be an All-Star?   Does he have to be if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are? 

Now, Lorenzo Cain does not have the luxury of two of the best hitting prospects in baseball on the horizon to flank him.  While Cain is expected to be a good, if still somewhat raw, defensively (it’s noteworthy that Cain did not play baseball until high school), the Royals need their centerfielder to hit.   Of course, if Alex Gordon hits 35 home runs and Jeff Francoeur reverts to his rookie form, then the pressure is off – but then, this column is optimistic enough – let’s not get carried away.

Cain hit a solid .306/.348/.415 in 47 games for Milwaukee last year, helped considerably by a .370 BABIP.   While that may be cause for alarm, Cain did post a BABIP above .340 in FOUR of six minor league campaigns and one of those off-seasons was in 2009 when most of the season was derailed to an ankle injury.    Frankly, do we have any real reason to think Lorenzo cannot hit close to his minor league numbers of .291/.366/.416 and possibly add some power to those numbers given his 6’2″ 200 pound frame?

While I am certainly being optimistic, what’s the real harm?   As Royals’ fans, knowing that Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are going to be in your everyday lineup in 2011, why not give them the benefit of the doubt.   Sure, Cain has had an abnormally high BABIP for most of his career, so has Mike Aviles and David DeJesus and a slew of other guys who can basically hit.  

Yes, Escobar was awful as a rookie, just as Omar Vizquel did.    Truth is, Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect last season and number freaking twelve in all of baseball.   A bad rookie year suddenly makes this guy a bad player who ‘will never hit’?

Come on, let’s all take a breath on this one.  

Should we get to September and Escobar still isn’t hitting a lick and doing his Angel Berroa impression in the field,  Lorenzo Cain is taking curious routes to fly balls and hitting an empty .275, Jeffress is suspended and Odorizzi getting lit up in High A ball, then you can feel free to write me and say ‘I told you so’.     

For now, however, let’s give these guys a chance before we decide this deal was horrible.   Jurickson Profar may or may not have been offered by the Rangers and while it would be fun to have him in the system, it would also be 2014 before he even sniffed the majors.   By the way, tell me the difference between the minor league numbers of Profar or Danny Espinosa and those of Alcides Escobar.

As Royals’ fans, we have plenty to worry about this season.  Namely, a rotation that starts with Hochevar and ends with ‘gee, I don’t know, somebody’.    I will be the first to lead the charge when Melky Cabrera starts six of the first eight games in leftfield in front of Alex Gordon (or five of seven in front of Lorenzo Cain in center), but I am content to say that the four players the Royals received for Zack Greinke might, just might, be a pretty decent return after all.