Fun with numbers: Blue Jays inquire about Greinke

Last week it was reported that the Blue Jays were looking at the availability of Royals ace Zack Greinke. These talks are usually preliminary at this stage of the offseason, but it is telling about the possible direction of these two teams.

It’s not likely many people were shocked, since Greinke has been mentioned as being “available” since the New York Post ran a story a few weeks before last season’s trade deadline. According to unnamed sources, the Royals told a number of teams there were “no untouchables” on their roster. This, of course, snowballed as everyone in the media declared that Greinke was unhappy and that the Royals were looking to unload their ace in their continuing effort to rebuild.

Officially, Greinke has expressed reservations about signing a long-term deal with Kansas City despite the team’s promising farm system. When this story was first reported, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs quickly briefed us on Greinke’s preference for progressive stats and that his transformation into a groundball pitcher made him think twice about the Royals’ overall plan since they seem to have ignored defense in a few recent acquisitions. It was purely speculative on Cameron’s part, but the logic was sound.

Moving Greinke won’t be easy; during this offseason he has the right to veto any trade to a destination not to his liking, including many high-profile teams like the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox. Another difficult factor will be the expected package the Royals will want in return. If the rumors are correct, the Royals are looking for two “can’t-miss” prospects as the mere starting point when discussing their ace. These demands are expected, although sometimes not achieved (see the Johan Santana Twins-to-Mets trade as an example).

What can be expected in a trade if the Blue Jays were serious about acquiring Greinke? Before we further speculate on who and why, let’s do a quick summary of Greinke’s trade value using the Sky Kalkman calculator introduced before the 2009 trade deadline.

Zach Greinke	 	 	 
Year	Sal (M)	WAR	Val (M)	Net (M)
2011	$13.5	5.0	$22.7	$9.2
2012	$13.5	5.0	$22.9	$9.4
FA Picks			$5.0	 
Total	$27.0	10.0	$50.6	$23.6

If you’re confused, reading Kalkman’s piece is highly recommended. It’s easy to follow and set up, so it can be applied to all current players.

These estimations were made mostly by projecting Greinke’s future WAR, which did take a dip last season from his 2009 return of 9.4. Using his 2009 WAR value as a ceiling and 3.0 as his floor (assuming he avoids injury), I took the conservative road and estimated he would be a 5.0 WAR player for the remainder of his contract, which gave a value calculation of $23.6M, including the probability that he will qualify as a Type-A free agent.

It’s impossible to know with certainty what Greinke’s exact WAR value will be over the next few seasons, but taking into account last season’s positives (increase in groundball percentage, excellent ERA-FIP differential, increase in getting opposing hitters to swing outside the strike zone) along with his negatives (sharp decrease in his strikeout rate, ineffectiveness from his curveball), he should perform as an above-average starter.

Now, for the fun part.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos gives Royals GM Dayton Moore a call…
… and if the reports are correct, Anthopoulos politely inquires about Zack Greinke. The seriousness of this call will be judged for the masses much later, one supposes, but it shouldn’t be too surprising since this very same Blue Jays GM isn’t a stranger to high-level hot stove news based on his handling of the Roy Halladay situation last offseason.

To further milk this in an effort to conjure up some drama, imagine the below information presented in high definition Fox graphics supplied by a mental voice-over resembling Tim McCarver’s. (Shuddering? Me, too.)

Royals offer Zack Greinke:
•	Front-of-the-rotation material
•	27 years old
•	Two years of team control at a salary far less than his true market value: $23.6M difference.

The Blue Jays could propose one of two options:

Option No. 1: Offer Shaun Marcum and catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud:

From the Jays’ position, adding another starter would only create a logjam since Kyle Drabek seems ready to assume a spot in the rotation this spring. Also, the Blue Jays seem to have an overabundance of catching prospects with J.P. Arencibia being major league ready and d’Arnaud and Carlos Perez all taking a place among the top Blue Jay prospects.

From the Royals’ position, Marcum would be seen as a capable starter worthy of being mentioned as front-end material for next season. Another positive would be for the Royals to add another certified catching prospect among their ranks since it isn’t completely certain where Royals catching upstart Will Myers will end up defensively.

Regardless, let’s see what the trade calculator tells us about Marcum’s worth:

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.
Shaun Marcum				
Year	Sal (M)	WAR	Val (M)	Net (M)
2011	$5.5	2.0	$9.2	$3.7
2012	$7.5	2.0	$9.4	$1.9
FA Picks			$5.0	
Total	$13.0	4.0	$23.6	$10.6

Obviously the numbers representing Marcum’s “salary” are made up (following the rules of 60 percent and 80 percent based on WAR and value projections) since he still qualifies for arbitration. In 2010, when he provided about 3.5 in WAR value, he was paid $850,000. That’s pretty impressive considering that he was able to pitch 195-plus innings after being shelved most of 2009 recuperating from Tommy John surgery.

Taking Marcum’s current numbers, his age (29 at the beginning of next season), and health risk into account, he would conservatively average out as a 2.0WAR pitcher until he qualified for free agency. That put him at the fair price of earning $5.5 million in 2011 and $7.5 million in 2012. This puts his trade value estimate at $10.6 million, far below Greinke’s $23.6 million value.

Next, we need to add Travis d’Arnaud’s fair value estimator, wonderfully supplied by Victor Wang shortly after Mr. Kalkman introduced his baseball trade “pocket calculator.” (For the full benefits of Mr. Wang’s research, click here, and for the abridged version, click here.)

According to Wang, the best way to assess a prospect’s value in a trade is to calculate his current standings among all prospects based on age and projected value (again, this is the layman’s version; if you’re interested in learning more, click one of the above links). In February, Baseball America ranked d’Arnaud as the 81st best prospect in baseball. Of course, this goes without calculating his 2010 season and the back injury he sustained. (Reportedly, he’s expected to be healthy by the start of next season).

Baseball America‘s recent prospect rankings by team bumped d’Arnaud to No. 4 overall, above Arencibia, but with his modest numbers and lack of experience in the upper minors, it would be difficult to place him without more detailed analysis. However, based on the current prospect evaluator, d’Arnaud classifies among the top 76-100 hitters and would be worth about $12.5 million in trade market dollars.

Player	     Trade Value Estimator
Zack Greinke	$23.6 million 

Player	     Trade Value Estimator
Shaun Marcum	$10.6 million 
Travis d'Arnaud	$12.5 millio
Total	        $23.1 million 

Short of half a million dollars, this seems like a fair trade, but would the Royals (and Blue Jays, to be fair) be satisfied?

Looking at the Royals’ desire to sell high: probably not. Marcum and d’Arnaud are good, but this trade lacks the high upside one would expect when a team is looking to rebuild by trading off its No. 1 starter.

Option No. 2: Offer Kyle Drabek, first baseman David Cooper and second baseman Ryan Schimpf:

Kyle Drabek is pretty well known to people who follow prospects. A trade to the Royals would mark his third team since he was signed out of high school as a first-round draft pick in 2006. Drabek comes with questions about whether he’s a true No. 1 starter based on his average strikeout numbers in Double-A, but he does show excellent groundball numbers and improving command.

Cooper comes with plenty of power, but not much else. He tends to hover around the high teens in many Blue Jays prospect rankings but his age (he will be 24 at the start of next season) is a bit high for his 2010 Double-A status, and he has a shrinking on-base percentage. These factors call his prospect status into question.

Schimpf has hovered around the mid-tier among Blue Jays prospects since he was drafted out of LSU in 2009. He has plenty of speed and promising gap power, but issues with the strike zone keep his ceiling limited.

Putting this through the prospect trade valuator:

Player	      Prospect Value Estimator
Kyle Drabek	$15.9 million 
David Cooper	$ 5.5 million 
Ryan Schimpf	$ 0.5 million
Total	        $21.9 million 

Last off-season, Drabek qualified among the top 11-25 pitchers, totaling $15.9 million in value. Cooper was rated as a B-level hitter last off-season according to John Sickels, which dials him in at $5.5 million. Schimpf was rated as a C+ level player, and at the upcoming age of 23 he qualifies as being worth $500,000.

Of course, the true valuation of these prospects would have to be more thoroughly analyzed, but you get the gist. In fact, those calculations above compared to Greinke’s trade value would probably call for another mid-tier prospect to be thrown in. (Feel free to speculate).

It’s possible the call could have gone something like what’s described here (although it’s doubtful these calculations were pushed through and verbalized, but who knows.) If anything, the Blue Jays could have inquired whether Toronto is on the Greinke-okay-to-play-for-list and, if yes, asked what may be of interest to Kansas City.

It’s all speculative—and one of the big reasons to love off-season baseball.

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I can see why the Blue Jays are looking for a stud starting pitcher.  Those guys are really hard to find and when you do get one you never, ever want to let them go.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

I’m with John here. If you think about it as “what do the Royals/Blue Jays hope to accomplish here?” I can’t imagine Marcum is a fit. Then again, the Royals are known to do baffling things from time to time.

Vince Caramela
Vince Caramela
Like I said above, I would expect (if the Royals were offered something similar to these scenarios) that Moore and co. would agree to door #2. My logic behind the first option is this: with Gil Meche’s blown shoulder, the Royals are hoping he can come back next season as a bullpen option; that leaves Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and Vin Mazzaro as the next best pitchers after Greinke. If Greinke goes that rotation is going to smell bad until their young lefties come into fruition. I think Moore would be open to finding a cheaper option to stabilize this… Read more »
Michael Cook
Michael Cook

If you combined these two deals, I think you are close. But as John and Brad said, the players don’t really match their need for position prospects over pitching prospects. I would say J.P. Arencibia, Adeiny Hechavarria, & Michael Crouse.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

Vince is right to point out that they’d need rotation help. Perhaps Marc Rzepczynski would work as a throw in?

John R.
John R.

If the Royals can’t contend in the next years, what good is Marcum to them?