Archive for Thursday, July 10, 2008

The eephus pitch

July 10, 2008

This time of year in baseball, rumors swirl like a toilet bowl on St. Patrick's Day.

It's right before the all-star break, and those teams that know they are out of it are willing to deal away big stars who will soon enter free agency in hopes of acquiring young prospects that will provide help in the future.

In this way teams can shore up multiple holes within their system and it will usually cost them one player who that team can't afford the following year; case in point the departure of last year's American League Cy Young winner, CC Sabathia from Cleveland for four of the Brewers' top prospects - including number one prospect Matt LaPorta.

That move prompted division-rival Chicago Cubs, 3 1/2 games up after Tuesday night, to acquire Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin from Oakland for four prospects in their system.

Teams have to strike while the iron is hot, so-to-speak, because smaller market teams, once they deem themselves out of the playoff race, must upgrade their system in exchange for players, like Sabathia, who will enter free agency the following year regardless of the team they're on when the season concludes.

That being said, the Indians' record is, as of Wednesday, two games worse than the Royals.

So, the first question this raises in my mind, is when do the Royals give up? I still think 12 games back is a slim enough margin that it doesn't warrant folding your hand. Teams have surmounted that type of deficit in the second half, and it would be disheartening to any fan to be stuck with a team that has given up its entire second half facing such a conquerable margin.

The second question, when and if it ever is time to give up, is with whom do the Royals part ways?

There has been talk of a Royals-Rockies trade that would send Royals young phenom Zach Greinke to Colorado in exchange for left fielder Matt Holliday. ESPN.com reports that the Royals are willing to deal Greinke for the right price, and they report the same about Holliday and say both teams will be active as the trading deadline nears. That sparked speculation on sports talk radio, especially during the recent Royals-Rockies series, that the two teams could swap the two players with possibly other pieces that wouldn't matter as much as these players matter to their teams.

If this is a serious possibility, the Royals shouldn't pull the trigger on this deal.

Both are incredible players who have many successful years still left in the tank. Holliday is 28, while Greinke will turn 25 in October. So age isn't an issue.

With money, it's a no-brainer. Greinke is still two and a half years from free agency, so his pay will increase from its current $1.4 million through arbitration in the next couple of years - unless the Royals lock him up long term before he hits the market - but Holliday is in the first year of a $23 million, two-year contract. Basically, he's a cornerstone type of player, and against the market of other players, he deserves it.

But Greinke, is the only sure-thing the Royals have. He's been better than ace Gil Meche this year, posting a 3.62 earned-run average with a complete game. He's fanned 96 hitters and walked 35 in 117 innings pitched. In all five categories I've just mentioned he's better than the ace of the staff, $11 million-per-year Meche.

Greinke is the Royals ace right now.

I'm taking nothing away from Holliday, he's having an exceptional year and it's well-documented that the Royals' offense is paltry.

But there are two questions that have to be answered for this deal to make sense on Kansas City's side - who takes Greinke's rotation spot when he's gone and how do we afford to pay Holliday past the 2009 season?

There is no one that can replace Greinke, because no one is as good in all of the Royals' system. Hardly any are as good in the major leagues. Greinke's record is seven and five, but put him on a team with a decent offense and all of a sudden he's got Brandon Webb's numbers.

According to the Sporting News, four scouts ranked Greinke's fastball among the best in the big leagues among starters along with Sabathia, Josh Beckett, Roy Oswalt, Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Carlos Zambrano.

If a deal is struck, and Greinke dealt, the Royals' offense would get some much-needed help, but with Meche and Jose Guillen already eating up large portions of the Royals' payroll, what would another $10 mil-plus per year player do to the rest of the Royals' squad? It could have an effect similar to what Bonds' contract had on the Giants. Three players would already be making almost $40 million, and even more than that if Holliday has a solid 2009. It would suck the Royals' meager payroll dry.

In my estimation this would be a fatal mistake on the part of Dayton Moore, a GM who learned in the Braves system that pitching, not bats, builds winners and it doesn't take $100 million payrolls to do so.

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