Building a baseball team that goes to back-to-back World Series takes a tremendous amount of talent, foresight, patience, and luck. Along the way, players are released, picked up, traded, brought up, and sent down. Nothing can be taken for granted, nor can it be predicted with 100% accuracy. The Milwaukee Brewers made it to the NLCS in 2011 with Zack Greinke as their ace, ultimately losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. While Brewers fans obviously wanted more, Milwaukee did in fact build a World Series contender; only they did it in Kansas City.
How Milwaukee Built a Winner in Kansas City
The needle that sewed the thread between the Brewers teams of yesteryear and the present-day Royals started when Milwaukee fired manager Ned Yost with twelve games left in the 2008 season. Yost spent 2009 out of baseball, then was hired by Kansas City in 2010. He’s been holding down the fort in the Royals’ dugout ever since.
After Yost’s first season at the helm in Kansas City, the Royals sent their ace to ,you guessed it, Milwaukee! Zack Greinke pitched very well for the Brewers, providing them the ace they needed in the short-term while they were in win-now mode built around the core of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Carlos Gomez. The Royals were not in win-now mode then, and were looking for pieces to build around in the future. Fast forward to today, a future has become the now, and it is present-day Kansas City in the World Series while the Brewers are searching for answers in rebuilding mode.
In parting ways with Zack Greinke, the Royals received four players, each of whom provided value to the Royals recent run, albeit in different ways. Kansas City received a pair of pitchers from Milwaukee. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress was with the Royals for two seasons, then was sold to the Toronto Blue Jays.
One needs not to be an expert in baseball economics or geography to know Kansas City is not exactly a big market that can spend the way the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, or those other clubs with payrolls that resemble the national GDP of some developing countries. To the Royals, every cent matters. Jeffress came, proved he had some worth, and brought back some dollars. (He’s since found his way back to Milwaukee.)
The other pitcher that changed zip codes was Jake Odorizzi. He only pitched seven innings and change in a Royals uniform, but held enough value as a prospect to be a supplementary piece that helped Kansas City acquire Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays. Davis is now an integral part of the Royals bullpen, serving as their set-up man last season and into this season, ultimately taking over as closer when Greg Holland was shelved with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.
The two position players the Royals acquired on December 9, 2010 are as important to the Royals’ playoff success as any: Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. Cain won MVP of the ALCS last season, Escobar won it this year. Escobar bats lead off and sets the tone for a Royals lineup that struck out less this season than any other team, as the Royals were the only team during the regular season to have less than 1,000 team strikeouts. Cain bats third and had a team-high .307 batting average this season, and he’ll probably garner some votes when the results of the AL MVP voting is announced.
Escobar and Cain also solidify the Royals defense. Along with Salvador Perez at catcher and Ben Zobrist at second base, Kansas City boasts one of, if not the best up-the-middle combination of offense/defense in baseball. Escobar is a near lock to win a gold glove as a Royal, this year and going forward, with Cain not far behind in terms of being recognized as an elite defensive player.
Both teams got exactly what they wanted when they made that trade in the dead of winter almost five years ago. But the Royals might get what the Brewers wanted – a championship. While Milwaukee likewise got a nice haul in return when they sent Greinke to the Angels, their ship has sailed; they’re now in re-building mode watching a couple of their prospects thrive wearing royal blue. Kansas City had no use for Greinke at the time of the deal; added Escobar and Cain to their stable of homegrown talent, supplemented their team with a few other deals and signings, and are now (again) one of two teams left to battle for baseball’s ultimate prize. They traded Greinke for not just players, but for hope. They got exactly the players they needed, and their scouting department deserves all the credit in the world for that.
The Royals trade of Zack Greinke is far from the only reason they are where they are, but if one were to map their path to October success, a stop through Milwaukee would most definitely be necessary.