When the Zack Greinke deal was agreed upon, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Royals GM Dayton Moore, "What's nice about this trade is that it isn't a big market taking from a small market."
Melvin understands Moore's predicaments. Milwaukee has become a mid-market team that has competed, having made the 2008 playoffs and drawn 3 million fans. Of course, when one traces the franchise's history back to the Seattle Pilots, the fact remains that it has never won a World Series and until 2007 had gone since 1992 without so much as a winning record.
According to one market survey, Milwaukee and Kansas City (along with Cleveland) are the three Major League cities not in the top 40 urban markets in the U.S.
"Teams in markets like ours cannot go out and sign a Cliff Lee or a top free-agent pitcher," said Melvin. "We have to rely on scouting and development and try to do what we did with CC Sabathia and now Greinke."
In July 2008, Melvin traded four players for Sabathia, and the Brewers rode the left-hander's heart and soul into their first postseason appearance since the 1982 Harvey's Wallbangers, as Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA for his new club.
"When you're in a smaller market," Melvin said, "there are things you can do and things you cannot. The margin for error is small. Sometimes people do not understand why you do the things you do, but necessity is something you can't spell out for fans, because they don't want to hear it."
It seems so simple online, comparing historic precedents and theoreticals, calling those who make decisions "stupid" or "incompetent." One GM voiced criticism of the Royals' signing of Gil Meche and was told, "Until you have sat in that general manager's desk, next to the office of that particular owner, you're the chorus for Dylan's 'Backseat drivers don't know the feel of the wheel, but they sure know how to make a fuss.'" That executive has never forgotten. He had to make such decisions as well.
Melvin and Brewers owner Mark Attanasio have taken full advantage of the window that opened by drafting and developing Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, et al; that includes Matt LaPorta and the four players sent to Kansas City. Sabathia got the Brewers to the 2008 playoffs, then after last season, when their attendance was still more than 2.8 million but its lowest since '06, they set out to make another run at Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago in what should be a balanced National League Central division in '11.
The Brewers don't know how Fielder is going to play out as he heads towards free agency. He's going to become even more difficult to keep off the market, particularly if (or when) Boston signs Adrian Gonzalez to a long-term deal, but as was the case with Sabathia in 2008, why worry right now? With Prince in the lineup, the Brewers should be a good offensive team, even as they wait to see on Carlos Gomez and try Yuniesky Betancourt at short -- the same Betancourt who tied Billy Butler for the Royals team lead in RBIs with 78 last season. The Brewers were second in the NL Central in runs behind the Reds last year, and other than the 29-year-old Betancourt, Corey Hart is their oldest positional player at 28.
Prospects in Greinke deal
The buzz may have been about the Brewers adding Zack Greinke to the top of their rotation (and Yuniesky Betancourt to the infield), but the Royals got three exciting prospects, along with young shortstop Alcides Escobar, in return. Here's some more info on Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress.
Jake Odorizzi, RHP
One scout who saw Odorizzi, the Brewers' supplemental first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in 2008, in the Midwest League this season, said he was the best pitching prospect he'd seen all summer. The 6-foot-2 right-hander, who was taken out of the Illinois high school ranks, was the Brewers' top pitching prospect.
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP
There are few pitchers with more life in their arms than Jeffress, the Brewers' first-round pick (No. 16 overall) in the 2006 Draft. He can crank his fastball up around the 100-mph range and routinely throws 97-98 mph. Along with a plus fastball, he's got a plus curve, a 76-mph hard-downer breaking ball. In the past, he's had a changeup, typically below-average, but now that he's made the switch to a relief role, he can focus on his two plus offerings.
Lorenzo Cain, OF
Cain is a premium athlete who plays a premium position in center field. While he was drafted back in 2004 in the 17th round and will be 25 next April, in many ways he's much younger in baseball years. That's because Cain began his baseball career later than most, playing for the first time during his sophomore year of high school.
Milwaukee's problem in 2010 clearly was starting pitching; the team was second-to-last in the NL in quality starts and starters' ERA. First, Melvin traded prospect Brett Lawrie for former Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum, which one American League East GM called "the most underrated deal of this offseason." Around Tommy John surgery, the 29-year-old Marcum -- whose stuff translates to that of a conventional left-hander -- has won 34 games in three full seasons pitching in the AL East, is a terrific defender (as a converted shortstop) and is very difficult to run on. Gallardo is a legit top-of-the-rotation starter who won 27 games at ages 23 and 24.
Now, the Brewers add Greinke, the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2009.
"We have three Opening Day starters from last season," Melvin said, with a modest laugh. "Let me make one thing clear -- I love the kids we traded. But how else does a team in our market get a full two seasons' worth of a Zack Greinke? If it were for one year, I wouldn't have done it. But it's for two years, starting with Opening Day this season. It's worth taking the chance."
So much so that on Sunday morning, Melvin got a text from Marcum that read, "I can't wait for Opening Day."
Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson quietly won 25 games between them last season, and the glimpse the Brewers saw of Mark Rogers off his long fight back from right shoulder injuries showed promise of stardom -- 10 innings, two hits, three walks, 11 strikeouts and a fastball that touched 100 mph. John Axford established himself at the end of last season with 24 saves and 76 strikeouts in 58 innings.
So there will be great expectations for new manager Ron Roenicke and the Brewers in what, given hope, is a great baseball town.
So, too, is Kansas City, which hasn't had much hope since the end of the George Brett era, which produced a World Series championship, two AL pennants and seven postseason appearances in 10 years beginning in 1976. The Royals have had one winning season since '93.
It isn't entitrely fair to hold the Tampa Bay Rays as the model for the Royals because of the relative divisions, but the reality is the same -- develop as much talent as possible, try to get them to the big leagues as close to the same time as possible and try to capture the window.
Some high picks like Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar have yet to hit their stride. But go most anywhere these days to Baseball America or Jonathan Mayo or Kevin Goldstein, and the Royals will come up as one of the two or three most talented organizations in the game, thanks to the Draft and international investments Moore has been allowed to make by the Glass family.
Moore indentified a need for midfield talent. Alcides Escobar has thus far been erratic, but he's highly skilled. Lorenzo Cain developed last season into a speedy center fielder who put up mid-.800 OPS numbers in the Minors and played so well in September that Braves uber-scout Jim Fregosi told Moore, "If you trade Greinke, get Cain." Jake Odorizzi was considered by many to be the Brewers' best prospect, and while Jeremy Jeffress has had physical and off-field problems, he has a big arm.
The Royals' window for a run at the AL Central is probably 2013, by when Greinke was going to be gone; his heart was already gone by the end of the 2010 season. So the Royals have all kinds of good, young left-handed pitchers like John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer and Danny Duffy, complemented by the promise of Odorizzi, Jeffress and Aaron Crow. They have Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas for the infield corners, with Escobar and Christian Colon in the middle. They have Wil Myers. From 2013 to '15-'16, the Royals can be the Rays, who against all rational odds won two division titles in three years, beating the Red Sox and Yankees down the stretch in 2008 and '10 ... and now face the daunting task of rebuilding around what remains a formidable starting rotation and a franchise player in Evan Longoria.
This wasn't about San Diego facing reality with Gonzalez and having the team with the second-highest payroll in the game swoop in with three premium prospects. This was one team that went from 1992-2007 without a winning team using its scouting and development to secure an ace and extend its window, all the while helping a fellow small-market team that has had one winning record since '93 try to store enough talent to make a similar run to the one the Brewers currently enjoy.
It would be wonderful to see a Brewers-Royals World Series. Great fans. Great cities. Great ballparks. It probably cannot happen because the Brewers' window may hinge too greatly on keeping Fielder and Greinke off the free-agent market, but folks in both cities can at least hope. In this sport's current system, '82 and '85 isn't happening -- not simultaneously -- but, all things considered, Melvin and Moore have done what they believe needed to be done, and Zack Greinke is a Brewer.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.