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MILWAUKEE -- Two-and-a-half years ago, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin raided his farm system to lure CC Sabathia from Cleveland and declared, "We're going for it." Now Melvin is doing it again.
Two weeks after he traded his top position player to the Blue Jays for right-hander Shaun Marcum, Melvin pulled off a Saturday night shocker by sending four more premium young players to the Royals for 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
The teams made the deal official on Sunday afternoon.
"This is sort of a 'now' deal," Melvin said. "But I told Zack Greinke this: 'It feels like we got CC Sabathia but we got him for two years, and maybe even longer. That's the difference. He's excited about coming here. He's motivated."
Melvin paid a high price to get Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash -- reportedly $2 million to offset the buyout of Betancourt's 2012 club option. Kansas City receives the Brewers' starting shortstop in Alcides Escobar, their potential starting center fielder in Lorenzo Cain, a former first-round Draft pick in right-hander Jeremy Jeffress and Milwaukee's top pitching prospect in right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
It's quite a quartet of young talent. Escobar and Cain are both 24 and big league ready. Jeffress is 23 and might have been in the Brewers' bullpen on Opening Day. Odorizzi is 20 and pitched the first eight innings of a no-hitter last season at low Class A Wisconsin.
"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," Melvin said in a statement. "I also appreciate the support of ownership in making this deal."
The Greinke trade came weeks after the Brewers parted with their consensus top position prospect -- second baseman Brett Lawrie -- to land Marcum. Lawrie won't turn 21 until next month and scouts say he could be the next Jeff Kent.
But the Brewers need pitching help now, so Melvin pulled the trigger. Brewers starters were next-to-last in the National League last season with a 4.65 ERA after ranking last in 2009.
The trade for Greinke sparked memories of July 2008, when Melvin wanted superlative left-hander Sabathia so badly that he sent four players to the Indians, including top prospect Matt LaPorta and blue-chip outfielder Michael Brantley for about three months of Sabathia. It paid off when Sabathia all but carried the team to its first postseason appearance in 26 years, but he left via free agency the following winter.
Greinke, 27, has two years and $27 million left on his current contract. Like Marcum, who is on a similar schedule, the Brewers are open to talking about an extension, but will let the players settle in first.
There's no doubting Greinke's talent; he won the 2009 AL Cy Young while going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA. In a more pedestrian '10, Greinke was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA.
Milwaukee may be suddenly short of top prospects, but it has the makings of one heck of a rotation. Greinke, Marcum and right-hander Yovani Gallardo were all 2010 Opening Day starters. Left-hander Randy Wolf is a steady No. 4, and fellow lefty Chris Narveson is in line for the fifth slot.
All five of those pitchers will be under team control for at least the next two years, which incidentally coincides with Melvin's own contract as GM.
The staff should give the Brewers a window to compete in the National League Central regardless of the outcome of their talks with first baseman Prince Fielder and second baseman Rickie Weeks, both of whom are on track to reach free agency after 2011. The Brewers are more hopeful about reaching terms with Weeks, and discussions with agent Greg Genske continued last week.
Word that the Brewers were close to acquiring Greinke for a package of prospects first surfaced Saturday night on "Bernie's Crew," a blog hosted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel but independent from the newspaper. Then the website OnMilwaukee.com, which regularly covers the Brewers, chimed in and, citing a source, added Odorizzi's name to the mix.
Joshua Kusnick, the agent for Cain, received a call from Melvin on Sunday morning with news of the trade. Cain is "100 percent a Royal," Kusnick wrote on Twitter. Kusnick also represents Jeffress and learned a few hours later that he was in the trade, too.
The Brewers and Royals did talk about Greinke earlier this offseason, but Melvin sounded pessimistic during the Winter Meetings earlier this month that a deal could be struck, both because of the Royals' asking price and because of Greinke's no-trade clause.
That was 10 days before Greinke switched agents, from SFX to Jeff Berry and the group at CAA Sports, and reportedly expressed a desire to be traded. Greinke approved the trade to the Brewers after the teams worked out the terms.
Royals GM Dayton Moore was seeking a bundle for Greinke, notably premier young players for the middle of the field -- particularly shortstop and center field -- and the mound.
In the deal with the Brewers, Kansas City is filling those needs. Escobar was Milwaukee's starting shortstop in 2010 and is expected to be much better offensively than he was as a rookie, when he hit .235 with a .288 on-base percentage and 10 stolen bases. Cain debuted in the Majors last season, a fine center-field defender and batted .306 in his first 147 at-bats with a .348 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Odorizzi may be the team's top arm, a supplemental first-round pick from the 2008 Draft who went 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA at low Class A Wisconsin in 2010.
It's a high price, but Melvin is once again going for it.
"I know that sometimes our [Minor League] system gets criticized, but you're not able to make a deal like this if you don't have talent there," Melvin said. "So I give our guys credit, and I have faith in them to restock the system for the future."
In the immediate future, Betancourt will become Milwaukee's starting shortstop after batting .259 last season with 16 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .288 on-base percentage. Center field will probably go to Carlos Gomez, who lost the job to Cain in the second half of last season because he couldn't get on base. Gomez, who finished the year with a .247 average and a .298 on-base percentage, avoided arbitration by signing a one-year contract on Friday.
Just the fact that Greinke is still pitching is a story in itself. He left Spring Training in 2006 to deal with what was later revealed as a social anxiety disorder. At the time, no one -- including Greinke -- knew if he'd return to baseball. Yet, after two months, he did and determinedly worked his way back through the Minor Leagues and then the Royals' bullpen.
This was a gritty comeback for a kid who, out of high school, was the Royals' top Draft choice (and sixth overall) in 2002. He became a Major League starter two years later, going 8-11 with a 3.97 ERA in 24 games. But the '05 season was a battle and he sank to 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. The following spring, he dispiritedly left camp.
Greinke's competitiveness is fierce despite a somewhat stoic demeanor on the mound. He's a thinker and given to refining his technique with a passion as he did with the development of a changeup prior to his Cy Young season. That augmented his sizzling fastball and devastating slider.
During the disappointing 2010 season, Greinke created a stir by indicating he was weary of the Royals' continual rebuilding efforts and wondered if they'd ever pay off. He later confided that he lost some of his motivation at one point and that he'd probably increase his medication because of minor problems with his anxiety disorder.
Greinke has a droll sense of humor, a dry wit and doesn't hesitate to express an honest opinion.
When Sports Illustrated put him on its cover early in his award-winning 2009 season, Greinke wasn't all that impressed.
"There's a lot more interesting stuff going on right now. They should have something else on the cover. Playoff basketball or something else," he said. "So it's a mistake."