The Zack Track

If you're sick of hearing about Cliff Lee, clap your hands. Okay, now that I just made everyone and their mother and Nick Swisher lose at Simon Says, let's stop talking about the guy that every other sports-affiliated persona in the world is chatting/blogging/ranting about.

Instead, let's take a stroll around Bill James's old nightguard post, through some cornfields,  past the final two Royals fans canceling their season ticket plans, and into the office of Royals GM Dayton Moore. I'd assume Dayton and CMC Alum/Royals assistant GM, Dean Taylor, are sitting at a big ol' wooden table with their scouting head honchos, discussing the entree on their off-season plate: Zack Greinke.

It seems illogical, on the surface, to trade away a 27-year-old Cy Young winner who is signed for the next two seasons at just $13.5mm per year. I'm not a huge fan of some of Dayton's decisions, but I'd actually say he's smart to be exploring a trade right now. "What?" you exclaim with OMFG in the comment thread, "Why trade away Greinke?! Ridiculous." Hold your horses...or, you know, tie them up to the trough outside. Horses can't read, keep 'em away from the computer. Okay, so, logic, right, here goes: The Royals aren't going to win the AL Central in 2011. We're on the same page? Okay. The Royals aren't going to win the AL Central in 2012. Still in agreement? Okay. Greinke is a free agent following the 2012 season; the Royals aren't going to win until 2013 at the earliest. Trading Greinke makes sense.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here's the real question: Where does Greinke go? And the subquestion: who goes to KC in a deal?

I see three teams that A) Should have interest in Greinke, B) Greinke would likely accept a trade to, and C) Have the prospects to make a deal work. Those three teams? The Rangers, Rockies, and Nationals.

The Rangers are obviously trying to retain their ALDS/ALCS hero, Cliff Lee. However, the Yankees are going to put a full-court press on the left-hander, and if he winds up in the Bronx, the Rangers would like a new ace. The Chicago Tribune suggested that Greinke could be that acquisition. The Rangers' farm system is one of the game's strongest; guys like RHP Tanner Scheppers and SS Jurickson Profar would entice the Royals, as they would rise to the bigs along with the rest of KC's prospects (most of whom are two, three, maybe four years away from the show). Of course, the Rangers traded away a top young name in Justin Smoak this summer, along with lesser names: RHP Blake Beaven, RHP Josh Lueke, and 2B Matt Lawson. In order to bring Greinke to the Ballpark in Arlington, the Rangers would need to include one of Scheppers, Profar, and LHP Martin Perez, plus two or three of their second-tier prospects. Essentially, a Greinke trade to Texas could end up shaping the Royals like the Mark Teixeira trade shaped this year's Rangers.

The Rockies are more of a long-shot in the Greinke Sweepstakes; I understand that. They haven't really been mentioned in connection to the righty aside from a recent Denver Post questionnaire with Rox GM Dan O'Dowd in which he alluded to the Rockies' hesitation to give up depth in trades for big names. Nonetheless, it's hard to deny the fit of Greinke on the Rockies. The team has one ace in Ubaldo Jimenez, and Greinke would give them a fearsome top-of-the-rotation duo; both Jeff Francis and Jorge de la Rosa have reached free agency, Greinke would slot into the rotation to take one of their spots alongside Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Aaron Cook. The team is playoff-capable; as the Giants showed this October, a strong rotation goes a long ways towards post-season success. The Rockies have spent their past couple drafts stockpiling young lefthanded arms (ie. Tyler Matzek, Christian Friedrich, and Rex Brothers), and the Royals would salivate at the prospect of having one of those three anchor the rotation during the 2013-17 seasons (ie. the time when they keep promising to have a "competitive team"). The Rockies could also offer guys like Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr, athletic types who could find spots atop the Royals lineup. After years of rebuilding, the Rockies are truly poised to make a run at the NL West in 2011; adding an ace like Greinke might make them the favorite.

The Nationals are the front-runners for Greinke, if you ask me. GM Mike Rizzo has admitted the unlikelihood that the team will be able to sign Cliff Lee, but has remained adamant about his desire to add a front-of-the-rotation arm. He told MLB.com's Bill Ladson that the team can pull off a deal for an ace, and he's right. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals' savior, won't return from elbow surgery until late next year; that duo, plus Jordan Zimmermann and a complimentary arm or two could make the Nats big players in the 2012 NL East race. Add in a lineup that has an established star in Ryan Zimmerman, and young talents such as C Wilson Ramos, SS Ian Desmond, and SS Danny Espinosa and the ball club is on the verge of contention. Greinke would add to the buzz the Nats have created with their Strasburg and Bryce Harper draft selections; a real Washington fanbase could easily assemble with Greinke wearing a W on his cap. Of course, to grab Greinke, the Nats would have to give up some talent. C Derek Norris, RHP Drew Storen, 1B Chris Marrerro, and the aforementioned Ramos/Desmond/Espinosa could be dangled in possible trades.

The media focus will be on Cliff Lee until he signs on the dotted line, but I'd guess that the first thing to crawl across the bottom of the ESPN screen the following morning will be a Greinke-based "so-and-so has interest" headline and all eyes will be on Zack's possible 2011 home.