By Andrew Perna
The Angels, in an arms race with a number of contending teams ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, added the best available option when they acquired Zack Greinke from the Brewers on Friday night.
Greinke will be a free agent after the season, but over the next two-plus months he will substantially increase the likelihood of Los Angeles playing baseball deep into October.
On May 1, the Angels were six games under .500 and eight games back of the Rangers in the American League West, but they have weathered some early storms to remain in the thick of the playoff race. They enter the week at 55-47, five games back of Texas. Despite winning just five of their last 10, they currently hold one of two Wild Card berths with the Tigers, Rays, Orioles, Blue Jays and Red Sox in hot pursuit.
Adding Greinke to their rotation not only bolsters their pitching staff, but it also ensured that the right-hander did not end up with the Rangers, or another rival team hunting for a postseason berth. As recently as late last week a number of scouts predicted the 28-year-old would eventually land in Texas.
The addition of a second Wild Card has placed a premium on winning your division in order to ensure a playoff experience of more than just a one-game play-in, but with a deep rotation such a scenario is not as scary for the Angels as it is to other clubs.
If the Angels are not able to catch the Rangers, something they certainly have the time and talent to do before 162 games are played, they have a staff built to play two or three must-win contests in as many days. A tight playoff race could mean Los Angeles will have to win their final game or two, then the Wild Card battle and a day or two later, Game 1 of the ALDS.
That schedule looks daunting, and it is, but the Angels have Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren (there are question marks there) and now Greinke to take the mound. He has been inconsistent, but Mike Scioscia can trot out Ervin Santana as well.
If Los Angeles catches Texas or wins often enough to comfortably claim a Wild Card spot, Scioscia can line up his rotation nicely for the postseason. The American League features a number of tremendous offenses, including the Yankees and Rangers, but facing Weaver and then some combination of Wilson, Haren and Greinke in Games 1-3 (and perhaps Game 4) is a tough task with October glory on the line.
Greinke, who came to California with a 9-3 record and 3.44 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 21 starts (123 innings) for the Brewers, represented himself well in his debut with the Angels.
Over seven innings against the Rays, he allowed seven hits and two runs in a 2-0 loss. He struck out eight and walked one batter. Jeremy Hellickson and the Tampa Bay staff was too good, allowing just four hits.
Greinke pitched very well in less than two seasons with Milwaukee and this year has been his best since he broke out with the Royals in 2009 (16-8, 2.16 ERA and 242 Ks). He has the second-lowest ERA and slugging percentage against (.357) of his career, his best winning percentage over a full season and very good rates of 8.93 K/9 and 4.36 K/BB.
While he will fit well with the Angels, the price tag for what could amount to a rental has to be worrisome for the organization.
Already thin on elite prospects, Los Angeles sent shortstop Jean Segura and Double-A pitchers Ariel Pena and John Hellweg to Milwaukee. Segura was considered the best prospect in the Los Angeles system and the pair of right-handers have performed well and at 23-years-old there is still time for growth and development.
Grade for Brewers: B+
As it became increasing clear to the Brewers that making the playoffs and retaining Greinke over the long-term would be difficult, dealing him was the only solution. In this trade, they helped fortify a system that took a hit when they acquired Greinke from Kansas City. They did not add a player that can reliably step right onto a Major League field, but added depth is nice, especially when the departure of Greinke was a foregone conclusion.
Parting with the trio of prospects is a pill the Angels were willing to swallow because they did not have to ship out speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos or young pitcher Garrett Richards.
Grade for Angels: B-
There are two angles to this trade that are almost impossible to quantify at this point in time. How much pressure does this place on the Angels to win a championship this fall? And more importantly -- How good of a chance do they have to re-sign Greinke this winter?
Torii Hunter admitted shortly after reports of the trade surfaced that the deal "shows you that we are trying to win this thing." In the eyes of many, that was the case well before Greinke landed in L.A. They handed out a ton of money this past offseason to add Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. "Win now, then again soon" was the modus operandi heading into the 2012 season.
The future of Greinke is a more pressing question.
Jerry Dipoto has not shown his cards, claiming that the Angels have not broached the topic of a potential long-term contract with Greinke or his agent. There is only one outcome that makes this deal an A+ for the Angels -- they are World Series champions less than three months from now.
If the Angels do not win a title, there will be those that claim the team could have signed Greinke to a contract as a free agent without trading away prospects. That argument might prove to be a poor one, especially if a few months in Southern California convinces Greinke that he wants to pitch for the organization for a long time.
The question then becomes -- if you are the Angels would you trade those three prospects and hand Greinke a contract worth $X amount. What Los Angeles gave up to land the right-hander is not going to affect his value on the free agent market.
The move, however, is a proactive one by Dipoto. The Angels now have a deep rotation and thus a better chance at a deep playoff run. If things go well, the team will also have a head start and an early advantage in the race to sign Greinke when the weather gets colder.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim