You know the saying…

Specifically, I’m referring to all the rumors currently swirling around Zack Greinke.  New wrinkles keep popping up all the time.  The latest is from Yahoo Sports and Kansas City-based writer Jeff Passan who revealed this in his latest missive:

Though Greinke has a no-trade clause in his contract that includes the Yankees and other big-market teams, a source close to the right-hander suggested he would happily pitch anywhere that would provide a winning team.

“I wouldn’t put it past him to go to New York,” the source said. “I don’t think he’d rule out anybody. He says he likes New York. Especially because they’re winners. He wants to go to a team that wins.

Obviously, there are two camps of Royals fans.  On one side, you have a group of fans who think .500 baseball is a realistic possibility in 2011, followed by the AL Central title in 2012.  These are the fans who consider Greinke an integral part of The Process and are not willing to part with the ace no matter the return.

On the other side you have those who buy into Mellinger’s Project 2012.  The theory that the pipeline of minor league talent will begin filtering into Kansas City with an eye further down the road for contention.  Young players take time to acclimate and mature into big league players.  Success isn’t immediate and by the time the young nucleus is ready to win, Greinke will be a distant memory so it makes sense to deal him now and add to what is shaping up as the inevitable Royal Baby Boom.

Frequent visitors of this site know where my feelings lay.

And I think it’s a good thing the Greinke camp is talking about ignoring the no-trade.  When you’re shopping a talent like Greinke, you want as many bidders as possible.  Simple economics: More interest equals a higher return.

While the no-trade clause can be used to prevent a top player from being dumped into the lap of a losing team, it’s just as often used as a bargaining chip.  Leverage, as it were.  In Greinke’s case, it’s an extremely shrewd piece of a contract which was negotiated by his agent John Courtright at SFX.   Obviously, at the time the player and agent (and the team) can’t see into the future, so the no-trade clause is the best way to hedge their bets on the future of the young ace.  If the Royals are a competitive team while Greinke is a member, everyone wins.  Greinke pitches important games, the Royals are in a pennant race and Greinke marries a model.  (OK, so one of those three things happened.)  If the Royals aren’t competitive, the market most certainly would dictate that the Royals would shop Greinke.  Armed with the no-trade clause, Greinke holds all of the power.  If the Royals wish to trade him to a team currently on his “list” Greinke could either:

A) Realize the Royals are years away from contention and waive his no-trade clause so the Royals could continue to build for the future.
B) Decline the deal no matter what.
C) Agree to remove the clause if his new team comes up with a suitable number for a contract extension.

Uhhh… It’s pretty clear what happens in this situation.

Greinke will be 28 at the end of his current contract.  If he pitches anywhere close to his potential over the next two years, he’ll be set for a ginormous payday.  Epic.  He can remove that whole shopping for a new team angle by negotiating a long-term deal with a perennial contender who can afford what it will cost to get the 2009 Cy Young award winner under contract.

No doubt about it, Greinke holds all the power.  All of it.

This brings us to the “source close to the right-hander” quoted in Passan’s article.  Passan is good at what he does and because of his Kansas City ties, undoubtedly has an inside track on all things Zack.  But the cynic in me says this wasn’t some source Passan has used before.  Or it wasn’t someone Passan called out of the blue for a quote.  It was likely someone sent from the Greinke camp with the purpose to pressure the Royals into making a deal.  It could have been anyone… His father, his wife, his agent… But let’s be clear about this.  It was someone speaking with Greinke’s blessing.  This was an orchestrated quote, all but announcing Greinke’s intentions.  If New York is in play, everyone is in play.

That means Greinke is done in Kansas City.

Plus, in reference to the title of this post, there simply wouldn’t be this many rumors floating around if there wasn’t something to them.  My partner in crime, Clark, tweeted that the latest development makes him think there’s a 95% chance Greinke is out of town by Christmas.  Those are some steep odds.  However, I’ll go one better than Clark.  I think there’s now a 95% chance that Greinke is gone by December 16.

Why December 16?  Because I figure the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes will be settled sometime during the Winter Meetings in Orlando next week.  The Lee free agency is what is holding up any impending Greinke deal.  Lee will cost a ton, but he won’t cost prospects, and all we hear about is how teams are really valuing their prospects these days.  That makes the Ranger starter option number one in this market.  Beyond Lee, the rest of the class of free agent starting pitchers is thin.  Extremely thin.  That makes Greinke option number one A.  Greinke can’t be moved until Lee makes his decision.  And we all know how Dayton Moore likes to act quickly.  He’s like one of the McGuire twins at an all you can eat buffet:  He wants it all and he wants it NOW!  December 16 is one week after the close of the meetings.

Now it’s time to look forward and determine what kind of return Greinke could bring.

According to Ken Davidoff of Newsday an official from an NL club speculated it would take a package of Jesus Montero, Slade Heathcott and Dellin Bettances if the Yankees were to lose out on the Lee Sweepstakes and settle for Greinke.  That’s a strong group of prospects.  Let’s look at the players:

Montero is the number one prospect in the Yankee system according to Baseball America and my be the best all around hitter in the minors.  He got off to a slow start in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last summer, but wound up hitting .289/.353/.517 with 34 doubles and 21 home runs.  The best part?  He’s a catcher.  Yes, please.  That means stud prospect Wil Meyers can move to the outfield and it also means we can put Jason Kendall out to pasture.  While scouts rave about his bat, they’re far less complimentary about his defensive skills.  He allows more than his share of passed balls and has trouble with his transfer on throws to second.  Also, Montero is a big guy and conditioning will be key in any future improvement.  Still, acquiring a guy like Montero is a must in any kind of deal for Greinke.

— Bettances is the Yankees number three prospect. (Just behind Gary Sanchez, another catcher.  Three of the Yankees top six prospects are catchers.)  He stands 6-8 and has an electric fastball with a power curve.  He had surgery to reinforce a ligament in his right elbow in 2009 and threw only 85 innings last year between High A and Double-A.  He struck out 108 and walked just 22.  Baseball America projects him as a front line starter as soon as 2012, and if he falters they figure he could be on the shortlist to replace Mariano Rivera.

— Heathcott is the Yankees number nine prospect and top ranked outfielder.  At just 20 years old, he received his first taste of pro ball last summer and hit .258/.359/.352 in A ball.  Baseball America describes him as a high-energy player with excellent speed and range in center.  Like most first time pros, his power is still developing and his pitch recognition isn’t there just yet.  He had surgery on his left (throwing) shoulder this winter and will possibly start 2011 on the sidelines, but there aren’t any long-term concerns.  Still, as the youngest of the three he’s the furthest from the majors.

I think this is exactly the kind of deal the Royals take for Greinke.  Three prospects, none with the major league service clock ticking.  One who is as close to a sure thing (and at a premium position) you’ll ever find, another who is a year away from contributing and a third who has some upside.  If you hit on two of those three, that’s a successful deal.

What do you think?  Is that a fair deal for the ace?  Or do you want more?  Or do you want to hold on to Greinke at all costs?

Either way, I think it’s time to start thinking about Zack Greinke as a former Royal.

Maybe we can work out a sign and trade with this guy.