New York Yankees: Can They Pry Away Zack Greinke From the Kansas City Royals?

October 11, 2010

I want to preface this by saying that I heard from a friend who was at several of the Kansas City Royals instructional league games/practices/workouts last week. All the general talk amongst Royals people was Zack Greinke and if he will be traded this offseason.

Greinke has a contract which runs through 2012, when he will be all of 29 when he reaches free agency.

But general consensus of those associated Royals employees was NO, Greinke would not be traded this offseason. The most likely scenario is he could be moved during the 2011 or even 2012 trade deadline.

And the Royals would want top dollar in trade value if and when he might be traded.

The same questions arise when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber (and prime age) might become available via trade:

1) What teams have the financial capability to pony up the type of money to bring on $26 million over the next two seasons and possible demands via an extension?

2) What team has the type of prospects, especially Major League-ready pitching prospects, which a team like the Royals would want back in trade?

There are the typical teams which have the dollars, such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and both Chicago teams. But none of those teams has anywhere near the prospects that several other teams do.

The Mets’ and Red Sox’s systems are not that deep, the Angels just traded for Dan Haren and like their top system guys and the White Sox appeared to have traded their entire farm system for Jake Peavy and Manny Ramirez.

The Braves have quaite a few young pitching prospects, but they are at lower levels, and the Royals want at least one arm with Major League ready talent. The Florida Marlins have tons of good top level and Major League prospect players, but they are in the same boat as the Royals.

They keep their young guys to replenish the Major League team with good, young and cheap talent. In fact, the Marlins followed the Royals’ lead by signing their top pitching stud, Josh Johnson, to a multi-year deal. Guys like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Chris Volstad are not going to be moved to take on more payroll.

The Cardinals have a few good young pitchers in their system and also have the somewhat disgruntled Colby Rasmus possibly available. If Tony LaRussa returns to St. Louis, could Rasmus be part of a deal for Greinke? 

Probably not. The Cardinals might not have enough money for their own guys. They need to re-sign Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (at least one of the two) and Albert Pujols to longer deals in the next year or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays inquired about Greinke this past trading deadline, and would have done a deal if available. They have the prospects and were willing to handle the current salary structure.

But I believe they were looking for in-season help, and while not looking to trade this offseason, the Rays could possibly try and work something out next season if the need arises. Tampa seems pretty satisfied with what they have now. 

David Price, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and probably Jeremy Hellickson taking over for James Shields, who also could be traded, provide Tampa with a formidable rotation for 2011.

There are just not that many teams which have the financial and prospect capabilities to pull off this type of trade.

Well, except one.  

The New York Yankees have the money. And with the player development side built up behind General Manager Brian Cashman, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Senior V.P. Mark Newman, they now have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

I don’t care what Baseball America says or how they rank the Yankees. The pinstripe parade of young talent has already produced quality Major League talent, and is strong at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, especially in the area of pitching.

Good arms like Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, and Ivan Nova not only provide the Yankees with multiple arms ready to contribute in the Bronx, but also valuable trade bait to obtain top major league talent.

There are only so many spots open in a Major League starting rotation, and the Yankees, with their penchant in spending money on Major League arms, are not going to keep all this talent in house.

It is just not possible. They can keep several of these kids in the Minor Leagues for a few more seasons, but most need to be brought up or moved. No way they all get their Yankee chance.

They already tried to trade Warren as part of the Cliff Lee deal this past July, adding him when Seattle balked at the injured David Adams. And I still believe the Mariners made a terrible decision by taking the Rangers deal over that of the Yankees.  

I have seen most of the above Yankee farm hands pitch several times and while many are keepers, most are trade chips.

I love Banuelos, Warren, and Phelps, and with his power fastball and knee bucking breaking pitch, I believe Brackman is more suited to a late inning relief role. Betances is good, with great strikeout capabilites, but I do not believe he has the strike zone command yet to be the top of the rotation starter most others believe.

Most guys look at the size and wow factor and deem them “high ceiling” guys. Power guys get all the attention, but guys who get hitters out with an array of pitches are better suited in the majors. I like my starting pitchers who can throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate and have command within the strike zone.

Like Banuelos, Warren and Phelps.

I have seen Dellin pitch several times, he is a nice kid, but throws too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. He does not have that great command right now, and I don’t believe he can get that down the road.

But he can be one of the key chips to get Greinke from the Royals. Why? Because many others believe he is a top of the rotation starter. 

He had a good season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and with Cashman coming out saying he was possibly “the best pitching prospect we have ever had,” his value might be highest right now, especially with the history of arm injuries.

And since Brackman is better suited for the pen, and ready for the Majors sometimes in 2011, that makes Joba Chamberlain expendable, too. The Royals want two top pitching guys and the Yankees have that in Betances and Joba.  

And Phil Hughes isn’t going anywhere.

I would package those two right handers and and any positional prospect not named Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, or Gary Sanchez. While I am not enamored with Romine, I do believe that the young catcher would be more valuable traded for a need sometime next season.  

But will the Royals trade their ace?

The Royals have several young pitchers who are very highly rated in Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Christopher Dwyer, and John Lamb, all left-handed and all who did well at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a very tough park to pitch. Will Smith and former top pick Aaron Crow are also in the mix.

Throw in former top picks Mike Moustakas at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base, and the Royals have pitching and sluggers to anchor what looks like a solid core of young players, ready to all contribute in 2012.

And that is the rub. Do the Royals keep Greinke around to provide mentorship (and a right handed arm) for all the youngsters or do they trade him an help replenish with more Major League ready talent?

They will never be able to pay Greinke that type of big time money he will be due in 2013, and will save about $26 million over the next two seasons.

The trade would benefit the Royals. They would definitely allow the somewhat local product Joba to be a starter again, and he and Betances would add two right-handed power arms to the flurry of lefty pitching talent on the rise. As the Minnesota Twins proved all year, Joba would fare much better in the weaker A.L. Central.

The Royals will not really be a good team with Greinke now, they will not be able to afford him in two years, and they could get two power arms and a position player in return. If I were the Royals, I would shoot for the versatile Eduardo Nunez.

Besides recent first round pick shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals do not have another top middle infield prospect in the system. But if the Royals really want a catcher, then Romine is also expendable, maybe in addition to the two pitchers and Nunez. 

The Royals would be best suited to trade Greinke and the Yankees have the prospects to make the trade.

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New York Yankees: Top Five Replacements for the Great Mariano Rivera

July 14, 2010

Well replacement might be a tough word, because no one is going to ever replace the supreme production supplied by Mariano Rivera.

Replacing someone was as great as Rivera in their own line of work is the ultimate no-win situation. It rarely works out the same way, and no one usually remembers the replacements.

Quick: Who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base? Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA? Answers below.

Mariano is the greatest closer of all time. Not the greatest relief pitcher (that would be Rollie Fingers because of his multiple inning durability), but Mo is the one pitcher you want on the mound for three ninth inning outs holding a one run lead.

Finding a new closer is going to be a difficult challenge as no one knows how long Rivera will continue to want to pitch.

At age 40, Rivera has shown no signs of vulnerability. He still sports one of the best closer ERAs with 1.05 and 20 saves, and a WHIP of 0.641. He also retired an incredible 24 straight batters in the month of June.

Still highly effective, how long will Rivera want to pitch? Similar to Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will allow Rivera to make up his own mind when he wants to leave the game.

Rivera has mentioned that signing a series of one-year deals (similar to what Pettitte has done) would be acceptable to him.

I believe Rivera will pitch at least two more seasons after 2010. The “Core Four” will begin to gradually leave the team after this season (Pettitte retiring) and after 2011 (Jorge Posada not being re-signed).

If I were Mo, I would not want to retire the same season as another long time Yankee does.

I believe Rivera will then leave after the 2012 season, which makes getting my preferred replacement very difficult, as that guy is available sooner than the 2013 season.

Here are the five top candidates for the eventual new Yankees closer spot, and Joba Chamberlain is NOT on the list.

Answer to above questions: Gene Bartow replaced the Wizard of Westwood, and Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig at first base after his 2,130 consecutive games streak ended.

5 – Mark Melancon, Yankees Scranton AAA team

If they ever give this guy a chance of more than a couple mop up appearances, then he will show the Yankees that he will be the eventual closer.

Mark Melancon was drafted in 2006 with the idea of becoming the eventual Yankees closer. He was the very effective closer for the University of Arizona, a pitcher with a great mound demeanor and a bulldog want-the-ball attitude.

He has done everything you could ever want and need in the minors, including some dominating times in Triple A.

Melancon does three things you want in a relief pitcher: 1) He throws strikes, as he only walked 35 batters in three minor league seasons coming into 2010; 2) he strikes out hitters with his 95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curve; and 3) he can go multiple innings.

He has struggled a little this season, but most of the damage has come in a few different games in his 34 appearances this year.

He deserves more of a major league opportunity than Chad Gaudin or Dustin Moseley. 

And when he gets more of an opportunity, he will show the Yankees that he can and will perform the function that he was drafted for in 2006.

Being the Yankees future closer. 

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 50:1

4 – Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers

Valverde was a relatively unknown closer who toiled for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros for five and two seasons respectively, before signing with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2010 season.

Valverde saved 47 and 41 games in 2007 and 2008, and has not slowed down since joining the senior circuit.

He sports a miniscule 0.92 ERA this year, allowing a scant four earned runs in 39 innings. Valverde has a WHIP of 0.821, walking 3.7 per nine innings, but allowing very few hits. Hitters are batting .125 off of him this season.

His strikeout rate has steadily declined over the years from a high of 12.6 per 9 IP in 2006 to a “measly” 8.3 per 9 this season.

Have no fear as Valverde usually gets two strikes on most hitters he faces, and finishes them off with a strikeout or weakly hit ground ball off his devastating splitter.

But one thing hurts Valverde’s chances of becoming the next Yankee closer.

Mariano will likely pitch two more seasons after 2010, and Valverde will be a free agent after 2011.

With the lack of quality closers available, some team will overpay for Valverde, and it is very likely he re-signs with the Tigers.

At the grand age of 34 when he becomes a free agent, I do not see Valverde accepting an eighth inning role for a year or two so he can eventually close with the Yankees.

And unless Rivera retires after one more season, I do not see the Yankees aggressively going after Valverde.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 20:1

3 – Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

He is the current Los Angeles Dodgers closer.

Broxton is big and strong (6’4″ and close to 300 lbs!) with a massive lower body that screams high heat. He can register the guns all the way up to 100 MPH, and regularly hit 98-99 on the gun in closing the All-Star game out last night for the National League.

Over the last two seasons (his only two full years as a closer), Broxton has struck out about 13 hitters per nine innings, while having a WHIP around 1.000.

Those are two great traits for a dominating closer.

Like Jose Valverde, the only issue is that Broxton can become a free agent after the 2011 season, and will have many suitors vying for his work.

If Rivera wants to continue pitching, will the Yankees fork over big money for Broxton over four years, using him as a very highly paid set up guy for a season or two, then letting him close once Rivera retires?

This could happen as Broxton will only be 28 when he reaches free agency.

Will having the opportunity to eventually close for the New York Yankees be enough of a luring card for Broxton to forego his closer role for a year or two?

Or, since Rivera will be 42 in 2012, could both he and Rivera alternate as closer two years from now?

Broxton is the perfect fit for the Yankees, but what does scare me is his arm action, which is shown above. This type of action is ripe for injury, and not something which should be taken lightly, especially for a guy who throws as hard as Broxton does.

He is the perfect candidate to step right in as the future Yankee closer, but the timing of his free agency hurts his overall chances.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer –  7:1.

2 – Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals

Since he closes for the lowly Kansas City Royals, Soria is the best closer in the game that no one really talks about.

But people have been noticing him work lately as many have Soria pegged as possibly being traded to the Yankees as a set up man to Rivera for 2010.

Soria has put up dazzling numbers with a 162 game average of 2.13 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP with 37 saves. He walks only 2.5 per nine IP while striking out over 10 per nine IP.

He is signed through the 2011 season, with three club otions for 2012 ($6M), 2013 ($8M) and 2014 ($8.5M).

I do not believe the Royals will be wanting to pay Soria $8 million per in 2013, and could trade the closer to the Yankees sometime in 2012. If Soria is still effective two years from now, the Yankees will certainly have enough trade chips to whet the Royals’ appetite.

And two years after 2010 is when Rivera is likely to retire. But his odds decline a little as another team needs to be involved, and it is not just a straight free agent signing.

Odds of being the next Yankees closer – 5:1

1 – Huston Street, Colorado Rockies

Basically this deal works timing wise more than anything.

Huston Street will probably be a free agent after the 2012 season, just when I believe Mariano Rivera will retire.

When healthy, Huston is nothing less than very effective. He throws strikes, changes speeds and strikes out hitters at a good (although not great) rate.

Street just does not allow many hitters to get good contact off him. His career WHIP is 1.023 in 343 career innings.

Street is signed through 2012, but has a player option for $9 million in 2013. Assuming he is healthy and still effective at the then age of  28, if Street knows Rivera is retiring and the Yankees (among others) need a closer, Huston would be smart to decline the option and become a free agent.

The Yankees could easily give him a multi-year deal at $10 million per.

Street was rumored to be coming to the Yankees near the 2009 trade deadline, but the Yankees will have to wait a few seasons for his eventual arrival.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 3:1.

Honorable Mention – Current Yankee Farmhands

I would always allow a younger player to get an opportunity over a major league free agent, but the future job of Yankee closer is going to have so much scrutiny, it might not be a good idea to have a young player in that role.

It would not be fair to that youngster, and not fair to the fans, who would demand instant success. The role of closer is not allowed to have any failures, especially coming off the retirement of Mariano Rivera.

But the Yankees do have an abundance of young pitchers with strong arms, routinely hitting 95 MPH, with good control and two out pitches.

If the eventual closer was from the current ranks of farmhands, one of these young pitchers would likely be the next one:

Andrew Brackman – this 25 year old stands 6’10” and has finally become the prospect he was once destined.

Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Brackman has been successful this year as a starting pitcher at High A Tampa, andwas then promoted to Double A Trenton.

He finally harnessed the one negative in his game—pitching control. Cleaning up some mechanical issues has allowed Brackman to reduce his walks to only 16 in 80 innings in 2010.

During the debacle which was his 2009 season in Low A Charleston, Brackman’s only success was when he was sent to the bullpen. While better than normal his first handful of relief appearances, his last four stints were stellar.

He did not walk anyone over those ten innings, allowing only six hits with no runs, HBP, or wild pitches while striking out nine.

Here is my report last year on his bullpen success.

Brackman has now begun to throw a sharp slider at 87 MPH to go along with his hammer curve and fastball which has now hit 96 MPH.

With all the Yankees’ starting pitcher prospects in the system, Brackman might be better suited in the bullpen.

History has already shown he can succeed there.

Graham Stoneburner – this guy has what it takes to be successful as a major league bullpen arm. He has a fastball at 95-96 MPH and a nasty slider which generates lots of swings and misses.

Here is my report on him from one of his Charleston starts.

He walks relatively few hitters, allows few hits and has one of the best WHIPs in the entire minors. He has also struck out exactly a batter per inning so far in 2010.

He was promoted so far this year from Low A Charleston to High A Tampa and likely will stay in steamy Florida State League all season.

It is only Single A baseball, but Stoneburner continues to impress the Yankee brass with his stuff and mound presence.

If he does not consistently generate a third pitch, like his improving change up, Stoneburner could make his major league debut in the bullpen as soon as next season.

Tim Norton – a real long shot as this 27-year-old has spent most of his career on various disabled lists, including missing the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury requiring surgery. 

But I have liked his pitching style since seeing him in short season Staten Island in 2006.

But when he recently returned this season, he was nothing short of dominant, striking out well more than one per inning and having a WHIP well below 1.000. Norton has scrapped his splitter, which I have always said harms shoulders more than any other pitching factor.

But Norton, who has a serious nasty pitching mentality to dominate, is hurt again and on the Double A Trenton disabled list.