MILWAUKEE (AP) - The last time general manager Doug Melvin made a big move that prioritized the present over the future, CC Sabathia carried the Milwaukee Brewers to their first postseason appearance since 1982.
It didn’t matter much that Sabathia was gone the following year, and so were the prospects the Brewers gave up for him.
Melvin went all-in again Sunday, pulling off a deal with the Kansas City Royals on Sunday for 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Combined with another recent move to get starter Shaun Marcum from Toronto, the Brewers think they’ve fixed their starting pitching problems _ and believe they’re back on track for the playoffs.
“Brewers are for real!,” outfielder Corey Hart crowed in a text message to The Associated Press.
Milwaukee made pitching a top priority this offseason after watching its starters struggle in back-to-back disappointing seasons since the team’s 2008 postseason appearance. Melvin was willing to pay a fairly steep price to give new manager Ron Roenicke more to work with.
The Brewers gave up top infield prospect Brett Lawrie to acquire Marcum earlier this month, then sent more of their most prized young players to Kansas City to get Greinke.
The Royals acquired shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handed pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers in exchange for Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash considerations.
“Zack Greinke is one of the top young pitchers in the game today,” Melvin said in a statement. “We are very excited to add him to our new rotation.
“Zack brings great physical skills and athleticism to the team and is an outstanding competitor. This trade is a credit to our scouting and player development staff as their hard work and judgment provided us the talented prospects that Kansas City will be receiving. I also appreciate the support of ownership in making this deal.”
Royals general manager Dayton Moore indicated it took some direct talks between he and Greinke before the pitcher agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his contract.
“He was very much open to it at the end of the day,” Moore said.
Unlike the Sabathia rent-an-ace deal that put the Brewers over the top in the middle of the 2008 season, Milwaukee will have Greinke under contract for two full seasons.
There are two years left on the four-year, $38 million contract he signed with the Royals in January 2009. He is due $13.5 million in each of the final two seasons, although the Brewers got an undisclosed amount of cash back from the Royals as part of the deal.
Still, there is some risk involved. Was Greinke’s uneven performance last season an aberration?
Greinke was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA for the Royals last season. It was a step back from his standout 2009 season, when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and won the Cy Young.
Greinke is 60-67 with a 3.82 ERA in six-plus seasons with the Royals. He sat out most of the 2006 season because of an anxiety disorder and considered quitting baseball.
“A big part of my heart will always pull for Zack,” Moore said. “What he overcame, the success he had here _ to the point it’s not easy to make these types of deals. You would prefer to have him here and sign him long-term but it just wasn’t something we could do.”
Moore expects Greinke to thrive in the National League.
“This guy’s one of the best fielding pitchers in the game,” Moore said. “You can’t bunt on him. He holds runners. He’s a studier. I think he’s going to do terrific.”
The deal is an indication the Brewers are serious about making a playoff run in 2011 _ presumably making it far less likely that the team would trade first baseman Prince Fielder, who can become a free agent at the end of the season and has been the subject of trade speculation.
With the acquisition of Greinke, the Brewers’ starting staff inches closer to those of Philadelphia and San Francisco in the NL.
But this month’s deals for starting pitchers have cost Milwaukee promising young prospects who might have figured prominently in its future _ and could help the Royals’ rebuilding effort.
Escobar was the Brewers’ primary shortstop last season but struggled at the plate, batting .235 with 41 RBIs. Cain played 43 games for the Brewers last season, batting .306 with 13 RBIs.
Jeffress made 10 appearances for the Brewers last season, going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA. He has been suspended twice under baseball’s drug policy.
Odorizzi was considered the Brewers’ top minor league pitching prospect.
Moore said the deal made sense for Kansas City because the young players they acquired from Milwaukee fit into what is expected to be a wave of promising young players coming up through their system.
“We expect to be competitive next year,” Moore said. “We’re still working to improve our baseball team.”
AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Milwaukee and Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.
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