Early this morning the Kansas City Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers completed a blockbuster six-man trade that has baseball fans stunned. The Brewers gave the Royals Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Ordorizzi, and a player to be named later for 2009 Cy Young winner Zach Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
Cardinals fans instantly flipped out over the deal, which gives the division rival Brewers a dangerous rotation of Greinke, Shawn Marcum, and Yovani Gollardo, with Chris Naverson (7 strikeouts per 9 innings in ’10) bringing up the rear. It’s a formidable lineup of pitching that can theoretically match against the rotations of the best in the National League: namely, the Giants, Phillies, and the Cardinals.
However, as Greinke discovered in K.C., great pitching doesn’t necessarily translate into success or championships. Pitching combined with a solid lineup wins championships. And although the Brewers generally have a better lineup than the Royals, the comparison is unfair because there are women’s softball teams that can hit better than the Royals. The real test comes when Greinke and his vaunted pitching cohorts are on the mound with this team behind them:
1B Prince Fielder – The ironically-named Fielder has never been a good defensive first baseman. He can basically knock down most balls hit right at him, and has a range about as big as his own shadow. He’s the one huge offensive presence on the team, and he’s been above 4 WAR only once in his six seasons. He’s also in need of a serious attitude adjustment.
2B Rickie Weeks – Had his best offensive year last year, when he hit 29 homers and accumulated a 3.7 WAR. Still, he’s a minus defender at crucial position.
SS Yuniesky Betancourt – The light-hitting Betancourt is a minus defender with a terrible attitude. According to this 2009 analysis, Betancourt was responsible for -2.51 wins all by himself! Many baseball insiders consider Betancourt’s on-field failures a result of poor conditioning and an unhealthy attitude. This is the type of player you put in a crucial infield spot on a championship?
3B Casey McGehee – Another minus defender with potential pop, McGehee enters his third full season with a lot to prove in terms of consistency. His 2010 showed promise (23 homers, 104 RBI, 3.5 WAR), but how much will it cost to have McGehee manning the hot corner in 2011 when he was a -8 at the position in 2010?
LF Ryan Braun – The other true offensive threat in the lineup, Braun has had an outstanding four seasons with the bat. Unlike most of his teammates, Braun can actually handle the glove as well. One of the real stars on this team.
CF Carlos Gomez – The guy can’t hit a lick, but he’s a pretty solid defensive centerfielder.
RF Corey Hart – What Hart will we see in 2011? Will it be the guy who hit 31 homers and drove in 102 RBI in 2010, or will it be the guy who hit 12 homers and drove in 48 RBI in 2009? Past statistics predict the latter. Hart is traditionally a mediocre offensive player with a decent glove in right.
C Jonathan Lucroy – An offensive black hole for the most part, passable defense.
Despite the hoopla surrounding this acquisition, the Brewers still mostly resemble the Cardinals in that they have a few true offensive and pitching stars surrounded by a cast of replacement-level parts and defensive question marks all around. The addition of Greinke doesn’t change the fact that the 2011 Brewers will need several players to rise above their career marks offensively and defensively to make a dent in the rapidly-improving National League.
But the one important aspect rarely considered when building a champion – chemistry – is something the Cardinals have been actively pursuing in the offseason to great success. Chemistry explains how teams like the 1985 Cardinals went to the Series despite having almost no power, or the 1982 team won the Series with a rag-tag group. Today’s trade almost assuredly hurts the chemistry of the Brewers (in acquiring Betancourt to replace Escobar) and severely weakens them offensively and defensively. They have an imposing staff, but pitching can only take a team so far.
So don’t despair, Cards fans!