Zack Greinke is no longer a Royal. It’s painful to say, and I’m sad to see my favorite player in a long time move on. You likely already are aware that he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Jeremy Jeffress (RHP) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP). I know that everyone really likes to read people’s opinions on which team “won” and which team “lost” any given trade and there’s plenty of that all over the internet and Twitter. If you must know my feelings, I like the trade. The Royals had to trade Greinke at some point and they got multiple quality players in return. At the very least, I don’t think many people could in good faith suggest that this trade is a total bomb. So instead of trying to sell you on why I like the trade or why you should like the trade, let’s talk about what just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting: the 2011 season.
Like anyone else who roots for the Royals, I want to see more wins on the field, and frankly I don’t care how they accomplish it. Barring a bunch of extra wins, I’d like to at least watch a team that interests me. Honestly, the last couple of years have been some of the least interesting and hard to root for Royals teams that I can remember. They were filled with boring players who had no future with the Royals organization. It was like watching a bunch of hired guns who couldn’t really shoot all that well. Going out to see Zack Greinke pitch, Joakim Soria close or Billy Butler hit were the lone reasons to get excited. The Royals did lose one of those marquee names today, but the team just became much more interesting.
For the past year and a half (it seems so much longer) we’ve been watching Yuniesky Betancourt play sub par defense and hit with a woeful bat. He’s been a daily reminder of the fact that the Royals gave up Minor League talent in order to get, at best a replacement level shortstop. For many of us, he was the embodiment of a front office who can’t really identify quality Major League talent and over-values certain aspects of player evaluation. Now that Betancourt is heading to Milwaukee and the Royals got Alcides Escobar in return, the position just became interesting. Escobar is known as a very good defender who has the ability to be elite. He has struggled throughout his career with the bat, but did show some signs of putting it together in the upper Minors. He’ll never likely hit for any power, but he only needs to be near average offensively for a SS and he becomes very exciting. Either way, he just turned twenty four and likely represents the Royals shortstop for the next five years. This season we will get a chance to see him every single day, hopefully making spectacular plays and also developing as a Major League hitter. I knew what we had in Yuniesky Betancourt, I’m not sure what we have yet in Escobar, but I’m pretty interested in finding out.
The Royals farm system is light on outfield prospects, and very few are close to Major League ready. So, we’ve gotten used to Dayton Moore acquiring some free agents on one year “show me” contracts who at best can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline. These are mercenaries of the highest degree, and usually pretty low-rent mercenaries at that. There isn’t anything particularly exciting about going to see Scott Podsednik Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur for one season in a Royals uniform. We can still dream on Alex Gordon some, but he is running out of future projection. Prior to this move, the most exciting part of the outfield was hoping that speedster Jarrod Dyson would get some playing time and suddenly become a completely different hitter. Once again, after the trade things have been shaken up. Lorenzo Cain is thrust into the mix, and he’s a 24 year old speedster who has a good glove but also a track record of being able to hit the ball. In his first Major League season he hit .306/.348/.415. Not bad for someone who plays a premium defensive position and can swipe some bases. He’s young, fast and could take a really positive step developmentally in 2011. When was the last time we could say that about a Royal center fielder?
The bullpen is always a mish-mash of new and old guys, and in general is only exciting when you don’t want it to be exciting. Watching Joakim Soria come in and close games is one of the true joys of being a Royals fan, so there always that. However, there is a good chance that newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Jeffress will be a part of that bullpen in 2011 as well. He can hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun and is compared to Joel Zumaya. I don’t think that he’s a guy I’d want to rely on to close games just yet, but to have him available in the 7th or 8th inning is pretty cool if you ask me.
Last, but not least, the Royals also got starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi. While he is almost certainly not going to make the Major League team any more interesting, there’s a chance he’s the best part of this whole trade. He’s a right handed starter who potentially has four “plus” pitches and would have been the top prospect in the Brewers farm system. How he pitches this year, and how he progresses through the system, along with guys like Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery will be worth watching. This farm system just went from being a once in a decade type of system to a once in a generation one.
I know that people will still want to debate whether or not this was good enough return for the 2009 Cy Young winning pitcher. Honestly, I’ll still do it myself. However, the deal is done and we have to live with it. I think it’s time to stop using the franchises past errors and bad luck to judge how things are going to go in the future. The state of the world as it stands today is that the Royals have more talent than any other franchise in baseball, an owner who has been much more open to spending money, and no real financial obligations in the near future. In other words, they have talent, financial flexibility and money to spend. When was the last time they had even one of those? It really is a wonderful time to be a Royals fan, and 2011 is the start.