In the course of a week, we've seen the biggest free-agent pitcher in Cliff Lee go off the market, and now the largest trade piece, Zack Greinke, is headed to Milwaukee, according to ESPN.com's Buster Olney.
Sources tell Olney that the Brewers are sending outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress for the 27-year-old Greinke, who won the Cy Young Award in 2009. The report includes this paragraph:
The Texas Rangers made what they considered to be an aggressive offer for Greinke during the winter meetings earlier this month, only to learn that they were far short of Kansas City's expectations.
I'll confess that I don't know much about the Brewers' farm system. But as ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reported last week, the Royals wanted up-the-middle prospects, and Escobar and Cain certainly fit that bill. This is a guess, but if that was the package the Royals got, I wonder whether they wanted both Jurickson Profar and Julio Borbon in addition to some pitching prospects (maybe Tanner Scheppers and/or Martin Perez and some others?) from the Rangers for Greinke. Baseball America ranks Odorizzi and Jeffress as the Nos. 1 and 3 prospects in the Brewers system, so it's conceivable that Perez and Scheppers were included in the Royals' demands in addition to Profar and others. If so, that's a high price and probably one the Rangers weren't willing to pay (and I can't blame them). But again, that's just speculation.
Now that Greinke is off the market, the Rangers should jump in with both feet and see what it might take to land Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. He doesn't have the skins on the wall like Greinke, so he shouldn't cost quite as much in terms of prospects. But his contract is so favorable that I can't think teams will get a huge discount, either. Garza will earn around $25 million (that's a guess) the next three years as part of arbitration, while Greinke will make $27 million the next two years. So the Rays will ask a high price. But without the Cy Young to tote around, there could be a package that works and doesn't deplete the Rangers of too many of their top prospects. Maybe it could include Scheppers and Borbon plus another high-level prospect or two with major league time, such as Chris Davis, Derek Holland or Luis Sardinas. I include Sardinas as a way to avoid putting Jurickson Profar into the deal. Sardinas, a shortstop, is considered a raw talent with high upside. I can't see the Rangers parting with Profar. (Those I've talked to seem to really like him and don't want to give him up.)
There could be a way to structure the deal so that Perez and Scheppers are taken out of the mix, perhaps including pitcher Michael Kirkman. I had included Perez in here originally, saying the Rangers could trade Perez or Scheppers, but I don't like the idea of trading Perez. (I would not be thrilled with the Rangers' dealing Scheppers, either.) Talk to scouts, and they'll tell you how much upside Perez has, regardless of his bump in the road in 2010. So I didn't include him. For the record, I'm still a big believer in Holland, and I think other teams are, too. That's why he's included here. You have to give something up to get something of value, especially a proven pitcher who would be under club control for the next three seasons. And it's possible that Garza won't cost as much as some of the players I'm listing. We'll see.
But I'm interested in Garza. He doesn't have the numbers that Greinke has had the past few seasons, but he's been solid. Garza has 3.97 ERA in his career, which includes three full seasons and parts of two others. In his past three seasons as a member of the Rays' rotation, Garza has posted ERAs under 4.00 and was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA in 2010, which included a no-hitter. The Rangers saw firsthand how good he can be in Game 3 of the ALDS, when he held them to one earned run in six innings. He was 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts against the Rangers in the regular season, and they hit .229 off him.
Now that Lee and Greinke are gone, the really good starting pitchers on the market currently are extremely limited. Yes, the Rangers could wait until the trade deadline and try to bolster things then, as they did with Lee this past season. But think how much better the rotation would be with a guy like Garza in the mix when spring training opens.
Do you want Garza? Whom are you willing to give up?