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December 21, 2010

On the Beat

A Hero by Circumstance

by John Perrotto

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Dayton Moore faced the decision that all small-market general managers seem to eventually be forced to make: do you hold on to your most marketable player, or do you trade him for young and affordable players in bulk? The Royals' GM made that decision last weekend and shipped right-hander Zack Greinke, just one year removed from winning the American League Cy Young award, to the Brewers a pair of 24-year-olds in shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain and two pitching prospects.

This time, though, Moore was a GM who had help in the decision. That help, ironically, came from the player.

Greinke told the Kansas City Star in August that he was tired of losing and felt the Royals' much-anticipated crop of top prospects would fail to make an impact at the major-league level until after his contract expired following the 2012 season. Greinke continued to push for a trade behind the scenes, and his demand grew stronger last week when he changed agents with the objective of forcing a deal.

That worked out well for Moore in many regards. Unlike most GMs in his position, he does not have to bear the brunt of negativity from the media, public, and even his own players for trading a star player. Royals first baseman Billy Butler made that clear Monday afternoon when he appeared on XM/Sirius' Home Plate Channel and said many of his teammates weren't sad to see Greinke move on after his comments about wanting to leave.

"If Zack is happier in Milwaukee than Kansas City then good for him," Butler said.

Moore wasn't jumping for joy, at least outwardly, when he discussed the trade with the media. However, not only was he enthusiastic about the return in the trade, but one could also sense the relief in his voice that he no longer had to deal with the Greinke situation.

"We would love to be sitting here discussing a long-term contract with Zack Greinke," Moore said. "You want to hold on to your best players forever. That's a formula for winning championships as well. But there has to be a willing partner to go forward with that. We actually went down that trail and discussed that trail with Zack long-term, and it was apparent that wasn't something that he wanted to do. I had several conversations with Zack since the Winter Meetings, and he made it very clear that he was looking for potential opportunities elsewhere, but at the same time, he understood our position as well. We weren't swayed in any way to move him prior to spring training. It had to be the right deal, and this deal makes sense for us."

Many around baseball sensed there was urgency by Moore to make a deal. He had a very specific idea of what teams best fit the Royals' needs and what players he wanted, and the deal with the Brewers came together quickly when they agreed to part with Escobar, Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Kyle Odorizzi. Escobar and Cain will likely be in the Royals' Opening Day lineup next season, Jeffress could begin the season in the big-league bullpen, and many in the Royals organization feel Odorizzi has the biggest upside of any of the four players.

"We just felt that it was best to move forward because this deal presented itself," Moore said. "If the right deal didn't present itself, the shortstop and the center fielder, we probably would have continued to ride it out and see what unfolds. But the right deal did present itself. It made sense for us. And we executed it."

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The Phillies have been justifiably hailed for making the surprise move of the offseason by signing left-hander Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract as a free agent. While that move clearly makes the Phillies the favorites to win a fifth consecutive National League East title in 2011, it does bring into question how much they are going to be able to do in the years beyond.

The Phillies have spent $305 million on three players in the last 12 months, signing right-hander Roy Halladay to a three-year, $60 million extension last December and first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension in April. Even though the Phillies sell out Citizens Bank Park on a nightly basis and play in a large market, GM Ruben Amaro Jr.'s spending seemingly has to have limits.

"The reality is we'll have some decisions to make going forward," Phillies president David Montgomery said after the Lee signing. "This was an opportunity to give our fans and our organization a stronger opportunity to get to our goal in 2011. The puzzle beyond that is a challenge. We have a good man working on it and we have a good organization working on it. We'll try to put that puzzle together when we get to 2012. That's all I can say. You're asking hypothetically about people who have to perform and play all year."

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, left fielder Raul Ibanez, and set-up reliever Ryan Madson can all become free agents after next season, and right-hander Roy Oswalt and closer Brad Lidge could also leave if the Phillies don't exercise club options in their contracts. Additionally, Cole Hamels' contract expires following the 2011 season and the Phillies would need to re-sign the left-hander or face going to an arbitration hearing with him.

"That's one of the boxes you kind of put yourself into," Amaro said. "Now you have to make choices. But I think it was one of the important elements of this. We felt again, starting pitching, I don't know if there's a more important element of the game. We felt if we were going to be stable in one area, try to work around that, that starting pitcher would be the thing. I think we put ourselves in a position to have as good a rotation as there is in the game. So for our long-term success at the major-league level, we felt like this was the right thing to do."

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The Yankees are feeling the effects of the Lee signing in a different way. They are still in retrench mode after their $150 million offer was turned down by the left-hander.

Lee's departure seems to make it imperative that left-hander Andy Pettitte again put off retirement and return to pitch against in 2011 for the Yankees, whose rotation, as currently constituted, would include Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre.

However, there continue to be indications that Pettitte is leaning toward retirement. With or without Pettitte, GM Brian Cashman plans to spend the money Lee eschewed on other players.

"Plan B is patience," Cashman said. "We'll move forward with the available trade and free-agent markets and try to plug the remaining holes on this team—and I don't think we have a lot of holes. We just don't."

The Yankees never aggressively pursued Greinke and most of the few top-of-the-line starters on the free-agent market have been passed over. The best one left is Carl Pavano, and there is absolutely no way the Yankees would bring him back after his disastrous four-year stint with them from 2005-08.

There has been speculation the Yankees might try to trade for Carlos Zambrano, who new pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with in Chicago, but sources close to the situation say it is doubtful that will happen. The Yankees, though, do have at least a degree of interest in Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez.

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Now that right fielder Jay Bruce is under contract for the long haul, the biggest question surrounding the Reds is if they can strike a similar deal with first baseman Joey Votto, the 2010 NL Most Valuable Player. There is a growing thought around Cincinnati that Votto wants to test the free-agent market when eligible following the 2013 season, but Bruce says that is a misperception.

"The thing with Joey is he's been a little different," Bruce said. "I think people are construing it a little different than it is. Joey does not want to leave. He told me, 'I don't want to go anywhere. I love Cincinnati. I want to be here.' You have to understand Joey and I are in a different situation. He's almost four years older than me. He doesn't want to go anywhere. For people to think that he does is not the right thought."

The 23-year-old Bruce signed a six-year, $51 million contract. The Reds also have a number of other core players who would seemingly be candidates for long-term contracts, including right-handers Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez and center fielder Drew Stubbs. However, GM Walt Jocketty is not tipping his hand about who else he might be looking to lock up beside Votto, though he praised owner Bob Castellini for committing to Bruce.

"We talked about this as an organization," Jocketty said. "We thought this was the right time, the right player to go forward with a contract like this. This is a very significant commitment by this ownership group. I think it's something that should be recognized. Bob Castellini and the rest of the ownership group are really trying to build this organization. The community should recognize that and be proud of it."

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MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Freddy Garcia has become a target of numerous teams, most notably the Yankees and Orioles, along with the Twins, Mets, and Nationals. … The Dodgers are zeroing in on signing Marcus Thames to at least be part of a left-field platoon, though he might land a lucrative deal in Japan. … The Indians are considering signing right-hander Bartolo Colon, who has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009, to a minor-league contract. … The Tigers are thinking about signing free agent Orlando Cabrera to serve as a utility infielder and also be an insurance policy in case Jhonny Peralta falters at shortstop.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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