(Photo of Zack Greinke by Rock Chalk Jayhawk Cartographer)
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
One of my best friends lives in Kansas City. He's an aspiring sportswriter who bleeds Royal blue, so he might consider what I'm about to say as blasphemous. Yet what I have to say needs to be said: The Royals should trade Zack Greinke. Now, that's a hard idea to throw at somebody who calls Greinke the best pitcher in baseball, but the game's best pitcher can fetch a fistful of great prospects for the game's worst. And, let's face it, the Royals need talent. I sat at Progressive Field last Friday night and watched Greinke pitch against the Indians, and as he's done all season, he crafted a masterpiece. Greinke went seven innings and allowed one run, lowering his league-best ERA to 2.19. What did he get for his night's work? A no-decision. The Royals went on to beat the Indians, 2-1, in 12 innings. But that's not so unexpected since the Indians are playing out the season like a ballclub in a purple haze. They, too, wasted a fine pitching performance from a young arm, but they've already resigned themselves to playing for the future. Their future ain't tomorrow either. What their front office has done in disbanding a mediocre ballclub is give the Royals a blueprint of what they ought to be doing. Look at the Royals, and do you see a team loaded with talent? They have players with promise here and there, but they are a long way from holding real hopes of contending in the weak AL Central. I doubt they can expect to contend until 2012, if then. Not unless their front office takes a more unconventional route to a championship. The journey might take them to the depths of baseball, perhaps a 110-loss season. But it would be worth the disaster of a season if the organization can expect to win a division championship or two anytime in the next decade. And what does that have to do with Greinke? Everything. The Royals can finish dead last without him. He's a gem of a talent, the Hope diamond who finds himself in a hopeless situation. Greinke, 25, has enormous value to other organizations. Can you see him in Red Sox colors? Or as an Angel or Phillie or Brave? If people think Roy Halladay can bring a king's ransom for the Blue Jays, what can the Royals expect to get for Greinke, who's seven years younger and a lot cheaper than Halladay? It's hard on cash-strapped baseball teams like the Royals or Reds or Pirates to play in the financial stratosphere of the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Mets and Cubs. It's hard for some of them to play in the same financial stratosphere as the Tigers, White Sox or even the Orioles. For teams without deep revenue streams will never be able to keep their marquee talent, which brings the discussion back to Greinke. The Royals can't afford a great pitcher on an awful ballclub. They are wasting an extraordinary talent who could bring someone else a World Series. He brings the Royals nothing except a chance to win every five games. What happens those other four games? Gil Meche is a dependable starter, someone who's more likely to win than lose a game. Outside of Meche and Greinke, everybody else from Luke Hochevar to Kyle Davies is a work in progress, and by the time they're reliable big leaguers, Greinke (and Meche) will be elsewhere. In Greinke's case, he should go elsewhere this offseason. At season's end, the Royals should post a for-sale ad on Ebay. The online auction should draw plenty of interest from teams with big bankrolls and a stacked farm system, and I doubt the Royals would come away disappointed in the bounty of talent Greinke will bring. To keep him around is pointless, even as the organization talks about proving to fans it wants to win now. Reality, though, trumps high-minded dreams. For only the most myopic fan -- and my friend falls into this category -- can see these Royals winning much of anything, aside from the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft. But whoever that No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick is, he won't be able to help until down the road, and down the road, Greinke should be wearing a different team's uniform, playing someplace where his right arm will bring flashy victories instead of heartbreaking losses or no-decisions. That's what he's done this season, and see where the Royals are: in the AL Central basement behind a team that's just as lousy as they are. The Royals will finish there again next season -- with or without Zack Greinke. If they trade Greinke, maybe 2011 or '12 can bring the franchise back into contention for something other than a No. 1 overall pick.