Bank on it: With Cole Hamels signed to that delicious six-year extension, the Ryan Dempster scenario run into a (perhaps temporary) roadblock, no known actual move from Tampa Bay regarding a deal involving James Shields, and Josh Johnson apparently likely to stay while the Miami Marlins continue an apparent rebuilding fire-sale, Zack Greinke is now a) number one on the non-waiver trade deadline hit parade among starting pitchers; and, b) a certain bet to be gone before the 4 a.m. 31 July deadline. So says Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin to USA Today, even if he hastens to make clear it’s going to be difficult for him, personally, to trade the righthander:
I’m very fond of him. He’s one of my favorite players I ever had. Really, he’s been like a son to me. I enjoyed talking baseball with him. He’s very passionate. He follows the game. It’s been a great experience having him for a year and a half. There are so many good things about him, it’s going to be difficult when we trade him.
Greinke made himself tradeable with the mid-market Brewers when his agent let it be known he planned to test the free agency market after his current deal expires at season’s end. For their part, the Brewers helped make him tradeable when they fell well enough behind even in the race for the second American League wild card; they’re 6-4 in Greinke’s last ten starts, with Greinke himself going 3-1 with six no-decisions in four of which he pitched well enough to win.
In hot pursuit: At least the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels (who are also said to have eyes for Shields), the Chicago White Sox, the Atlanta Braves, the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Los Angeles Dodgers—never mind that the Dodgers are known to retain eyes for Dempster. All those teams have had scouts on Greinke’s trail and in abudnance when Greinke pitched Tuesday.
In really hot pursuit: According to Jayson Stark, the Rangers, the Angels, the White Sox, and the Braves. And it may come down in the end to which of the clubs believes it’s worth a potential rent-a-pitcher in terms of what they’d have to surrender. Looking toward season’s end, it seems on the surface that the Rangers and the Angels each have, potentially, the best chance of coming up with the dollars possibly needed to secure Greinke on a long-term deal. Will they pass on dealing for him now, even if he could help them mean a trip to the postseason?
What they might have to give up to rent him: Stark cites an anonymous American League wheel as saying it would take “a special set of circumstances,” since there are no longer compensation picks to be had when Greinke files for free agency, for a team to want him that badly unless they think they have a good chance of signing him long-term. “And if you think you’re just going to be in the wild-card race,” the wheel told Stark, “do you really want to put a lot of chips on the table for one game?”
The good news, then: The Rangers, the Angels, the White Sox, and the Braves aren’t just looking to the single-game wild-card elimination—they’re gunning to win division titles if they can. The likely scenario seems to be the Brewers asking for at least two blue-chip prospects from any trading partner (which is, by the way, what they burped up to get CC Sabathia for a rental a couple of years ago), which the Angels and Rangers have and the Braves may have. But those clubs also want someone they think they can lock up long-term. The White Sox have a reputation for gambling on the big move for right this minute, but some have feared Greinke is reluctant to pitch in a large market as his home base.
That fear, according to Stark, was smashed by one scout who watched him pitch Tuesday: Nobody is really going to know if he can unless he actually gets to a major city. So all you can do is evaluate his ability, evaluate his stuff and say, ‘Can he make your team better?’ And that answer, obviously, is yes. The other thing to keep in mind is, if you’re afraid of whether he can pitch in your market, there’s no reason to even go there and watch him pitch, right? So any [team] that was at that game, that had any interest at all, must already have made that decision. Don’t you think?
At least one kicker: Greinke is believed to prefer Atlanta as his eventual home.
The call here: I could be wrong, but I can’t help thinking Greinke is going to be wearing either Texas or Los Angeles silks next week. If you agree that the teams in question want a fair crack at signing him long term if they deal for him by Tuesday, the Rangers and the Angels are in a slightly stronger financial position to make that happen. And they can make their own home markets and their clubhouse ambiences alike look very attractive to Greinke. Not that the Braves can’t do the latter, but it’s the finanial question that may cause them to hold back in the end.