- At the 2011 trade deadline, the White Sox sent Edwin Jackson, along with 3B Mark Teahen, to Toronto for reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zack Stewart, who was in Double-A at the time. Stewart was a 24-year-old right-hander who profiled (and still does) as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but has yet to stick in the majors despite being past his prospect eligibility, and is now in Triple-A with the Red Sox, his fourth organization. This deal was a precursor to the larger deal the Blue Jays had sending Jackson to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus and others, but was considered a separate deal, not part of a three-team deal.
- Just before the 2010 deadline, the Cardinals acquired Jake Westbrook from the Indians as part of a three-team deal (including the Padres), ultimately giving up Ryan Ludwick, who was a year and a half removed from his breakout 2008 season, but was still a productive outfielder and had one year left of arbitration and team control.
- Earlier that month, the Mariners sent Cliff Lee, along with big league reliever Mark Lowe, to the Rangers for a package that included struggling but highly-touted rookie Justin Smoak, prospects Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and minor leaguer Matt Lawson. Lee was the best pitcher on the market that summer, and the Rangers were a contending team desperate for an ace, and had a deep farm system with which to work.
- The summer before, Jarrod Washburn went from Detroit to Seattle in exchange for a young pitcher named Luke French, who never panned out, and prospect Mauricio Robles, who has yet to make it to the majors.
The point of this exercise is context, so it's important to see where Greinke fits into this quartet. Lee is clearly the best of the bunch, with Westbrook and Jackson filling out the middle (pick your order) and Washburn bringing up the rear. Greinke probably slots just in between Lee and Westbrook/Jackson, given that Greinke has been good this year, but not his previously dominant Cy Young-winning self, and at the time of the Lee trade, he was in the midst of a masterful season in which he threw seven complete games, which just happened to be 11 less than the batters he walked that year.
The Mariners got a good haul in exchange for Lee, despite Smoak's struggles since. At the time, he had just used up his remaining prospect eligibility and was one of the most highly-touted young first basemen in the league. Of all the players Cliff Lee was traded for in his journeys from Cleveland to Philly to Seattle to Texas, Smoak was the best prospect moved at the time of any of the deals. Beavan was projected as a mid-rotation starter could still fill in the back of their rotation down the road. Lueke was (and still is) a hard-throwing bullpen arm with a checkered past, and Lawson was an organizational piece. Essentially, Lee was dealt for a potential cornerstone, two mid-level prospects, and a fill-in.
That trade, however, included the extenuating circumstances that the Rangers brought with them. When the Rangers pulled the trigger for Lee on July 9, 2010, they were sitting at 15 games over .500 and in first place in the AL West by a comfortable 5.5 games. The Rangers had been here before in their history. With a high-powered offense and enough pitching to stay afloat, the Rangers front office, led by team president Nolan Ryan, knew that to be built for the playoffs, this team needed an ace to lead the starting rotation. Armed with a deep farm system, they also knew they had the pieces to get one.
There are some similarities between the Lee situation and this year's Grienke situation. He's not having the dominating season that Lee was, but he has been an ace and could bolster a rotation in need or one, or could join a rotation as a very strong number two and help everyone else slide down into place.
Based on the four teams we've listed as potential partners for the Brewers and our historical context above, we can decuce the potential return for Greinke.
Rangers: Our old friends the Rangers aren't in nearly as much need for an ace this year as they were in 2010, but with their World Series window potentially closing (assuming the departure of Josh Hamilton this off-season), they may be as desperate as ever. They're not desperate enough, however, to trade top prospect Jurickson Profar, and any discussion with the Brewers asking for the top prospect in baseball will end as abruptly as it begins. Another scenario that has been tossed around is the availability of current shortstop Elvis Andrus in difference to Profar, but a move like that seems premature, and something that the Rangers would consider only during an offsesason.
But the Rangers still have an extremely deep farm system and can afford to move prospects. Next on the list of most bidders would be Martin Perez, who the Rangers could be willing to part with. Perez has long been lauded by scouts, but his production has never matched his abilities. By no means should the Rangers give up on him, but given the red flags that have surrounded his performance (4.29 career ERA in the minors, 5.25 in 25 career starts in Triple-A), there's always that could of uncertainty surrounding him as to whether or not he will ever truly pan out as a starter. That alone might be enough to get the Rangers to be willing to part with Perez.
Of the available Rangers prospects, Perez and Mike Olt are a notch above everyone else. Olt, the slugging third baseman, isn't nearly as good of a fit in Milwaukee with the presence of Aramis Ramirez, but he could always be traded, so that likely wouldn't stop the Brewers from taking him off the Rangers hands. But the possibility of getting Olt and Perez is slim, as they both fall into the same category that Smoak did, as potential cornerstones of the future, and the Rangers are unlikely to part with both. For the Brewers, it will be one or the other.
Paired with one of those two, however, could be any number of mid-level prospects in the Rangers system. Justin Grimm has come on this season and made three rough appearances in the majors, and Cody Buckel has been one of the best pitchers in the minors this season. Buckel has a higher ceiling, but both could end up being mid-rotation starters. If position players are what the Brewers want, they could have interest in Jorge Alfaro, who is one of the highest-ceiling players in the minors, but is also still just in his first year of full-season baseball. The C/1B prospect has tremendous power potential however, and the Ranges could consider him just a notch below Olt and Perez in terms of who they are willing to part with. Also available could be Rounged Odor, an international signee who is holding his own in the South Atlantic League as an 18-year-old second baseman. He's not nearly as prolific at any aspect of the game as Profar, but his baseball IQ helps him get by with average tools across the board, and makes him a good bet to succeed as he moves forward.
The Brewers could realistically ask for Olt/Perez and one of the four lesser prospects, and at least get the Rangers to listen. They can expect two draft picks if they lose Greinke to free agency, but a return of Perez/Buckel, for example, would be as good as they could expect to get from those picks.
Angels: This is a much more simple process for the Angels, whose farm system isn't nearly as deep as the Rangers. The Brewers have expressed interest in shortstop prospect Jean Segura, and likely wouldn't deal with the Angels unless he was included. Segura was recently called up to the majors, making his debut earlier this week, after hitting .294 in Double-A this season but skipping to Triple-A. Segura is a pure hitter that could develop into a nice top-of-the-lineup piece for the Brewers.
As with most teams who have discussed trades with the Angels, the Brewers would likely also inquire about centerfielder Peter Bourjos. A package including those two players would undoubtedly get the deal done on the Brewers side.
Braves: For the Braves to get a deal done for Greinke, it would almost certainly take one of their top two pitching prospects - Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado. The Cubs had a deal in place for Delgado in exchange for Ryan Dempster until Dempster used his 10-and-5 rights to veto it, but the Braves were willing to part with their young right hander. The Brewers, however, would likely require more than just Delgado for Greinke.
The Brewers could also ask for a complementary prospect along the lines of Joey Terdoslavich or Sean Gilmartin. Terdoslavich is a 1B/3B who the Braves jumped up to Triple-A to start the season, but dropped him back down to Double-A where he belonged after he struggled. In Mississippi, he has returned to form, hitting .301/.347/.462 in 40 games. He's a first baseman long-term, and with Freedie Freeman seemingly locked in there in Atlanta, Terdoslavich could easily be expendable. Gilmartin, the Braves 2011 first-rounder, has been good but not dominant in his first full professional season, posting a 5-8 record and a 3.54 ERA in Double-A, but striking out just 6.5 batters per inning. He's a potential mid-rotation starter who the Braves would be willing to part with, but they may not want to deal two of their top pitching prospects in the same deal.
The Brewers would also likely ask about catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, a stud of a defensive catcher who showed off his cannon during the Futures Game, but whose bat remains a question mark.
The Braves have shown a willingness to part with prospects in the past, as evidenced by last year's Michael Bourn trade and the Mark Teixeira debacle in 2008. Assuming the Brewers hold out for more than one prospect, a package of Delgado and Terdoslavich could get the job done.
White Sox: It's hard to ever count Kenny Williams out of any dea, as year-after-year he remains one of the most active GM's in the league, for better or worse. The problem at this point is that the White Sox system is just extremely bare and they don't have any of the high-end prospects the Brewers would want in return. They could offer depth, and if the Brewers are looking for the most prospects in return they can get, then the White Sox might be the team willing to make that deal, but they won't be able to obtain an elite prospect.
The White Sox have some interesting outfield prospects in Keenyn Walker, Jared Mitchell and Trayce Thompson. Walker is the most refined of the group and has the best approach at the plate, but has the least power. He was recently promoted to High-A Winson-Salem after hitting .282/.395/.387 at Kannapolis. He strikes out too much for a non-power hitter, but his issues with swinging and missing aren't nearly as pronounced as Mitchell and Thompson.
Thompson is the best power hitter in the Sox system, but strikes out at even more prolific rates. He hit 24 home runs last season in his second season in the South Atlantic League, but it came at the price of 172 strike outs. This season in the Carolina League, he's already hit 20 home runs, but has 130 strike outs to go with it. His .240 batting average this season is also a career high. The power is intriguing, but the lack of contact that low in the minors is a major red flag, and is keeping him from being an elite prospect.
Mitchell comes with the pedigree of a top prospect after being a first round pick back in 2009. After missing all of 2010 with an injury and a rough first season back last year, Mitchell has re-established himself as a prospect this season hitting .240/.368/.440 in Double-A before a recent promotion. Most of that production, however, came during a hot April, and he's struggled for the most part ever since. He too has major issues with strikeouts, fanning 183 times last season, with 129 already this year.
On the hill, the White Sox have a pair of prospects they acquired in the off-season - Nestor Molina, who came over from the Blue Jays in the Sergio Santos deal, and Simon Castro, whom they acquired for Carlos Quentin from the Padres. Many teams liked Molina better as a reliever, but the White Sox have used him as a starter in Double-A this season. The move has resulted in a 4.50 ERA and just 6.3 K/9, suggesting that a move to the bullpen would help his stuff play up. Castro was a former top prospect who got hit hard in his first taste of the upper minors last year but has bounced back nicely in a return to Double-A this season and has pitched well in his first four starts in Triple-A.
If the White Sox were to try and entice the Brewers, it would likely take most of the better prospects in their system, including many of those named here. Castro, Mitchell and Walker would just get things started, and likely would still not be enough if any of the other top prospects from the other teams end up being available.
Ultimately, the Rangers are the best fit for the Brewers because they have the most prospects to deal, a deep farm system making them more willing to part with prospects, and because they have the most to gain from obtaining Greinke. Adding the Brewers right-hander puts them closer to another World Series than it does for the other team, and that type of motivation often makes teams more willing to deal.
The Brewers are holding out for at least one impact prospect, and given the combination of multiple suitors for Greinke and his status as an upper-echelon starter, they should be able to get one.