Executives such as Doug Melvin and Allard Baird, and his longtime pitching coach in Kansas City, Bob McClure, considered Zack Greinke one of their favorite players.
Melvin often talked about how much Greinke loved talking baseball and how he was really into the game. Melvin even used to invite Greinke to participate in the draft preparations because he was knowledgeable and took such an interest in it. You don’t get that a lot from players.
Baird, who was the general manager in Kansas City during the trying times early in Greinke’s career, will tell you the same thing.
McClure was Greinke’s pitching coach for five seasons, including when he won the American League Cy Young in 2009.
“He’s special,” said McClure, now the Red Sox’ pitching coach. “I remember the first time we ever spoke. He said to me, ‘I will never throw a two-seamer, I will never throw a changeup, and I won’t take any advice from you.’ And then we went from there. He has a great two-seamer and changeup, and I was one of the few people he spoke to.”
But there reached a point of no return with the Brewers. Greinke, who is 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.203 WHIP in 21 starts this season, was traded to the Angels on Friday for rookie shortstop Jean Segura and Double A pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, both top-10 prospects in the Angels system.
Melvin made good on his promise that he would deal Greinke, and it happened well ahead of Tuesday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.
The Angels seem to make perfect sense, because if there’s one team Greinke would sign with long term, it’s them.
Of the starting pitchers believed to be available, Greinke was the prize, assuming the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez is not dealt.
“I know leading up to it that’s the one team I thought he would like to go to,” said McClure. “This may sound crazy, but the money doesn’t mean a lot to him. If he’s comfortable somewhere and he knows that team is close to winning a championship, those are the things that are meaningful to him. I think that’s a great atmosphere for him with [manager] Mike Scioscia and [pitching coach] Mike Butcher.”
The question the Brewers debated, and the Angels will likely debate: Is Greinke a great pitcher worthy of a contract like the ones Cole Hamels (six years, $144 million) and Matt Cain (five years, $112.5 million) recently received?
The Brewers drew their line, offering Greinke a five-year, $100 million deal. It seemed fair, but Greinke turned it down. That would seem to fly in the face of what McClure said, but the second part of his comments mentioned the ability to win a championship, and Greinke probably didn’t feel the Brewers were close.
“If he’s comfortable where he is, he is worth it,” said McClure of whether a team should sign Greinke long term.
The others suitors for Greinke were the White Sox, Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Braves, Orioles, and Cardinals. Those teams were going to rent him and then take their chances on whether they could re-sign him. But the team that got him is likely the team that will hold on to him. That is if Greinke likes what he sees.
The Angels were always the most intriguing suitor because they can’t afford not to make the playoffs after spending a small fortune on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. With Ervin Santana’s ERA at 6.00 and Jerome Williams a sketchy No. 5 starter, the Angels needed a boost to sneak into a wild-card spot.
No one, including the Angels, expected the Athletics to be this good, which put more pressure on them to land Greinke. While the Angels were dangling center fielder Peter Bourjos, the Brewers opted for a shortstop and pitching help.
One AL executive said right before the deal happened, “I think he’s a rental for most teams except for a couple [Angels and Dodgers], and then when he hits free agency he’ll get some decent offers. I know the outlay of talent for him will be expensive, but I think, too, teams need to see what he does for them before they commit those kinds of dollars.”
The White Sox, who have been concerned about lefthander Chris Sale wearing down, tried hard to acquire Greinke, even though he would have been a true rental. White Sox GM Ken Williams just didn’t have the chips to make it happen.
The Rangers were looking for another pitcher after losing Colby Lewis for the season. Their farm system is loaded, but the Brewers wanted shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar, and the Rangers weren’t about to include him.
The Braves would have viewed Greinke as a rental, but they had both feet in because they can’t afford another September collapse. They had the young pitching to deal in Randall Delgado, who was supposed to go the Cubs before the Ryan Dempster deal fell through.
In Baltimore, Dan Duquette wanted to make a splash. The Orioles had pitchers Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zack Britton, and Chris Tillman to dangle, but they weren’t good enough for Melvin.
The Blue Jays also have a rich farm system, but they wanted to hold on to shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and catcher Travis d’Arnaud.
“He really competes,” McClure said of Greinke. “He’s a winner. He really knows how to pitch and what he wants to do out there to every hitter and on every pitch.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Those of us who have been around and seen old-time players and modern players often speak about toughness. I was talking to a former major league pitcher who is now a coach, and he’s amazed at the difference in generations. “When we played, you wouldn’t dare come out of a game or ask the manager not to play you if you were hurt because if you did, you’d hear it from the other players,” he said. “Now, if a player is hurt and he wants to play, the players say, ‘Why are you playing?’ It’s amazing how that has changed 180 degrees.”
2. Here’s why I enjoy Nolan Ryan: He wasn’t afraid to say publicly that Josh Hamilton is “giving up at-bats.” And he didn’t speak to Hamilton about it first. That’s the way it should be. Ryan is the boss.
3. David Murphy blossomed into a very good player, didn’t he?
4. These rehab schedules for injured players are endless.
5. One of our birthday wishes is for Felix Mantilla. In 1964, Mantilla had one of the best seasons ever for a Red Sox second baseman with 30 homers and 64 RBIs as a leadoff and No. 2 hitter. He also had a .910 OPS. Mantilla had not hit more than 11 homers in his previous eight seasons in the major leagues but he had a made-for-Fenway swing, and hit 19 of the 30 homers at the Fens, where he had a 1.062 OPS. Mantilla hit 21 of those homers in the second half of the season.
6. Still get a lot of inquiries about Carl Crawford from baseball people. He still intrigues some teams, which indicates the Red Sox might be able to deal him if they can show the elbow surgery he needs won’t affect his return next season.
7. The thing that surprised Yankees GM Brian Cashman most about Ichiro Suzuki? “How well he speaks English. I know he has an interpreter, but he doesn’t need one.”
8. There wasn’t as much booing of Red Sox players at Yankee Stadium. Do the fans feel sorry for them?
Apropos of something
I once wrote that the “A’s played like the F’s.” But now, the A’s are playing like A-pluses. They have become one of the biggest stories in baseball, a group of vagabonds, with a dingy old home, coming together to create a pretty fun atmosphere, complete with Josh Reddick Spider-Man catches and guys like Coco Crisp and Brandon Inge who used to be somebody.
The A’s have been a clearing house for teams at the trade deadline. You come to Oakland to get traded elsewhere. But for now it seems the A’s, who are battling the Angels for second place in the AL West, might add pieces to solidify their playoff hopes.
With Cliff Pennington (elbow) on the disabled list, shortstop is a position of need. They were in the Hanley Ramirez hunt, but the A’s needed the Marlins to pick up more of the $38 million remaining on his contract, while the Dodgers were willing to assume all of it.
So, they’re now eyeing Toronto’s Yunel Escobar, who is making $5 million this season and next, with club options for two seasons after that. The Jays are looking to make room for Cuban sensation Adeiny Hechavarria at some point. There have been some rumblings about Escobar’s poor attitude, which could hasten his departure.
The A’s are also looking at Stephen Drew, whom the Diamondbacks would love to move. There are going to be inquiries about Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles, and the Astros' Jed Lowrie when he comes off the DL (ankle). It doesn’t seem as if the Red Sox would be in sell mode on Aviles, but that could change.
The Jays would want pitching from the A’s and one name mentioned is lefthander Brett Anderson, who is coming off a rehab assignment shortly.
Updates on nine
1. Jeff Francouer, OF, Royals — There was once a sizable market for Francouer, a righthanded bat and superb right fielder. But the Royals held on a little too long, and now Francouer is struggling at the plate. He entered Saturday hitting .238 with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 96 games, with only 28 extra-base hits. The Royals have to make room for prospect Wil Myers, who has hit 29 homers between Double and Triple A. Francouer could still help a team.
2. Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins — He’s available, but there was nothing but sticker shock from GMs on what the Marlins want in return, leading some to believe he would not be moved. However, the desperation certain teams feel to upgrade their starting rotations may lead to overpayment for Johnson, who hasn’t had a good season by his standards. The Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, and Braves have varying degrees of interest, though it seems unlikely the Marlins would deal with the Braves.
3. Derek Lowe, RHP, Indians — Signs of age or just a funk? That is what the Indians are trying to figure out as Lowe has struggled to a 2-8 record with a 7.59 ERA over his last 12 starts. Lowe started the season well — 6-1 with a 2.05 ERA in his first eight starts — but is now heading down the wrong road as the Indians scramble to challenge for the second wild card. Lowe went through a similar stretch in Atlanta last season, which basically got him traded. “I’ve actually pitched worse than this before in my career. I have to figure it out,” said Lowe, who has more walks (43) than strikeouts (40).
4. James Shields, RHP, Rays — On the whole, a disappointing year for Shields (8-7, 4.52, 1.456 WHIP), who has team options for $9 million next season and $12 million in 2014 but has garnered much interest. The Cardinals are in on him big time, along with the White Sox and Dodgers. The Rays always seem to listen, but will need significant offensive help to make a deal happen.
5. Hunter Pence, OF, Phillies — Phillies people don’t think they’d move Pence, but it hasn’t stopped teams from trying. The 29-year-old seemed more alluring when he played for the Astros, even though he hasn’t had a bad year in Philly and has probably been affected greatly by not having Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the lineup for the first half of the season. The Phillies have a budget crisis coming in 2013. They have $123.5 million tied up in just seven players for next season: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Howard, Cole Hamels, Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jimmy Rollins. While there’s been talk of Lee and Rollins being on the block, nobody seems to buy it, and the Phillies have squashed it. Pence is making $10.4 million this season and is arbitration-eligible again next season.
6. Jason Vargas, LHP, Seattle — The better he pitches, the more interest he gets. The teams who miss out on Josh Johnson, Matt Garza (who won’t be traded before the deadline), and Ryan Dempster may get in on Vargas. The Red Sox have some interest, but they want to make sure he’s better than what they have.
7. Cody Ross, OF, Red Sox — If the Red Sox decide they’re out of this thing, they will have no problem getting a nice return for Ross. The right fielder is precisely what contending teams need – a righthanded bat with power, who has his 2010 postseason history with the Giants to draw on.
8. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays — If the Rays don’t deal Shields, then Hellickson or Wade Davis appear to be available. Hellickson was never on the Rays’ list of pitchers they would deal, but some warts have shown up, and if they like what they hear they wouldn’t be against trading him.
9. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins — While he’s always been an intriguing name, the chances of the Twins moving him are slim. One Twin already on the move is lefthander Francisco Liriano, who went to the White Sox on Saturday night for infielder Eduardo Escobar and lefthander Pedro Hernandez. The Twins don’t seem to want to move Josh Willingham, and are asking a lot for Denard Span. While the Twins are in a sell mode, that doesn’t mean everyone. They’re awaiting the return of Carl Pavano and closer Matt Capps from the DL so they can deal them before the Aug. 31 roster deadline.
From the Bill Chuck Files: “Only three starters have had a WHIP under 1.12 in each of the 2010-12 seasons: Jered Weaver, Matt Cain, and Stephen Strasburg.” Also, “Want to know what makes a first-place team? Yankee pitchers have allowed the fewest runs (90) when they have had a runner on third and less than two outs. The Nationals are second with 91.” And, “When Daniel Bard was a first-year pitcher in the minors in 2007, he had a 7.08 ERA. This season through Wednesday, back in the minors, he has a 7.08 ERA.” . . . Happy birthday Luis Alicea (47) and Felix Mantilla (78).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.