Examining Why Kansas City Dealt Zack Greinke

The declarations on how Kansas City fared on the Zack Greinke return varies by expert. Kevin Goldstein tabbed himself a fan of the deal while Keith Law and our own Marc Hulet shared the sentiment of quantity over quality. Regardless of the opinions on the return, why did Kansas City feel the need to move Greinke now?

Rany Jazayeli reminds us on a daily basis that Dayton Moore’s – and therefore the Royals – modus operandi revolves around the 2012 season. The Royals’ farm system is universally considered as the best in baseball – even the stingy Martians give them high marks – with some estimating the system to be the finest in league history. A few of those talented prospects will begin flooding the big league roster as early as this season (possibly the Opening Day roster if Danny Duffy makes the Royals’ rotation out of spring) with the rest phasing in over the next season or two.

No fan wants to read about how meaningless this upcoming season is two months before pitchers and catchers report, but that’s the gist with the Royals’ 2011 season. Not to take anything away from them, but anytime Billy Butler and Joakim Soria are your best players then your team is likely heading for a losing season. There’s a high degree of difficulty in accepting the circumstances and still getting excited about the season for fans, so imagine how rough it is for the workers – in this case, the players – to entertain the thought of their work meaning nothing.

Murmurs already existed that Greinke lost his focus and mentally checked out this season. Whether that’s the truth or a convenient cover for a perceived down season depends on perspective; after all, Greinke still had a good season. No team knows Greinke as well as the Royals. The team has stood by his side during the highs and lows; with the highs being a Cy Young trophy and the lows being Greinke taking a break from baseball. That does not mean the Royals have perfect information about Greinke’s brain and motivation, but they should have the best idea of what makes him tick and when he’s not interested in pitching.

If Greinke did lose focus during the 2010 season, then nothing about the 2011 season would seemingly rekindle the interest. That’s a bit of a problem because Greinke would then enter the last season of his contract, forcing the Royals to weigh trading him or making a run with the young guns in place. Moore declined to reach that scenario and instead pulled ht trigger now. His thoughts – presumably – are to have it both ways: Making a run while benefitting from the bounty on a Greinke deal.

Multiple variables interfered with Moore’s efforts to move Greinke. The trade request going public may or may not have damaged Moore’s leverage, but Greinke having the ability to block trades to various teams – including the big market teams – probably dampened the potential return. Moore’s wishes to move Greinke to the National League sliced an already half-eaten pie down further. Then who knows how many teams were willing to pay a worthwhile bounty for Greinke given his personal demons and the attrition rate of pitchers.

With all of that considered, this was an atypical trade of an ace pitcher. This deal isn’t comparable to any of the Cliff Lee trades or even the most recent Scott Kazmir deal. Instead, the Greinke trade combines some of the most volatile elements of baseball players into one. Handling one or two of focus, pitcher attrition, and mental health creates a difficult analysis, combing all three leads to some potentially hazardous results. Even so, it’s understandable as to why the Brewers would yearn for Greinke (feeling they are near contention and wanting to make one more run with Prince Fielder) and why the Royals would cash Greinke in now. Whether the results matched the lucidity of the process depends on how you evaluate the prospects involved.

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