Why the Brewers Cannot Afford to Let Zack Greinke Walk Away

Sitting at 16-21, currently tied for fourth place in the National League Central division, the Milwaukee Brewers must begin to ask themselves a number of important questions. Possibly the most meaningful of those questions, however, is what they intend to do with Zack Greinke.

After blowing through the New York Mets last Tuesday night to the tune of seven strikeouts, five hits, no runs and no walks allowed through seven innings, Greinke improved to 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA so far this season. But while Greinke’s unambiguous dominance has helped Milwaukee arrive to this point of the season, it has also drastically increased his value across Major League Baseball.

Greinke is set to become a free-agent at season’s end, and many have speculated that his 2012 preponderance will make him one of the highest-paid free-agent starters this winter. The Brewers have made it known that they want to sign him to a contract extension, however, they also realize fully that many teams will be after his services this winter.

For the Brewers, who at this juncture look like they could be sellers at the July 31 trade deadline rather than a buyer, Greinke’s future with the club seems uncertain. However, one thing remains clear: Milwaukee cannot allow yet another star (see Prince Fielder) to walk at season’s end. Here are five reasons why.

Unparalleled Productivity

This one seems pretty obvious.

Greinke has been one of the most productive starters in baseball since making his way to Milwaukee last season. In 36 starts with the Brewers, the 28-year-old is 20-7 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, has struck out well over 10 batters per nine innings pitched and has a walk rate of just 5.7 percent.

While that’s nowhere near the numbers he put up during his 2009 Cy Young campaign, they’re still impressive numbers nonetheless.

It’s excruciatingly hard to find such dominant production like that from a starter, especially for the Brewers, who are so heavily dependent on their pitching. Allowing Greinke, who has clearly been Milwaukee’s most productive starter since the beginning of last season, to walk would prove detrimental.

Prince Fielder, Matt Cain as Examples

The Brewers stuck to their guns last season and went all-in for a World Series championship, knowing full-well that first baseman and free-agent to-be Prince Fielder would likely leave town for greener pastures. While they managed to secure a division championship and play host to the National League Championship, they ultimately fell short of their goal. Needless to say, they payed dearly for their shortcomings.

Fielder walked and signed a monster nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers in late January after realizing that the Brewers simply didn’t have the dough he desired.

While Milwaukee likely won’t be as cash-strapped as they were last winter, odds are that they may not have the capital required to keep Greinke in town, especially after 27-year-old right-hander Matt Cain signed a six-year, $127 Million contract extension with the San Francisco Giants in early April.

Many have said Cain’s extension will set precedent for what Greinke could be offered this offseason. If that’s the case, then the Brewers would be wise not to take the Fielder route with Greinke, because a small-market team like Milwaukee probably won’t be able to afford him.

Wasted Prospects

Attaining Greinke’s talents was no easy task.

Two winters ago, the Brewers dealt a heap of youngsters to the Royals in return for the former 2009 Cy Young Award winner. Blossoming shortstop and defensive superstar Alcides Escobar, aspiring outfielder Lorenzo Cain as well as pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress were all included were all sent to Kansas City as part of the deal.

Each were highly touted prospects at the minor league level and looked to grow into lethal talents on the baseball diamond for the Brewers. When general manager Doug Melvin sent them away, he essentially put Milwaukee’s farm system on wholesale, losing a hefty amount of future talent.

If the Brewers allow Greinke to walk away this winter after dealing away these four youngsters, many (this writer included) will look back only to feel that the trade was a waste of prospects that could have helped the team in future years.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and this case is certainly no exception.

If He Did Walk, What Would 2013 Rotation (and Beyond) Look Like?

The Brewers currently boast one of the most complete starting rotations in baseball. A large reason for that distinction has come because of Greinke’s dominance while with the club. So, what would happen if management decides to let him walk after this season?

First and foremost, it would mean that an extension for Shaun Marcum would be in order. I would assume that Marcum would be thrust into the No. 2 role just behind Yovani Gallardo. As for the rest of the rotation? I’m not sure even Melvin himself would know what to do.

The Brewers have a few top-caliber prospects — namely Wily Peralta, Jed Bradley, Taylor Jungmann and Tyler Thornburg — who could help fill the void, however, none of them (with the exception of Peralta) will be ready to take on a full-time starter’s role by the start of next season. Moreover, I don’t think a combination of Randy Wolf, Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson toward the back end of the rotation will be able to get the job done. Any way you look at it, allowing Greinke to walk would set chaos to Milwaukee’s rotation.

Greinke Will Be a Sublime Trade Chip

It’s no secret that the Brewers are lacking in talent down on the farm. With just three prospects (Wily Peralta, Jed Bradley and Taylor Jungmann) who were able to crack MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list entering this season, significant work has yet to be done to replenish the young talent lost two winters ago in the trade that brought Greinke to Milwaukee.

Given Greinke’s dominance to start this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if needy contenders start to make offers to the Brewers as the trade deadline draws nearer. Doug Rush, a Yankees columnist here on B/R recently wrote that New York should revisit trading for Greinke.

While the Yankees aren’t exceptionally deep in young minor league talent, they do have a few prospects that could entice Melvin to deal Greinke to the pitching-destitute Bronx Bombers. Other teams such as the Orioles, Mets, Blue Jays or Indians might try to acquire Greinke as a rental-type player.

Which ever way you look at it, Greinke will offer tremendous trade value once the deadline rolls around, and if the Brewers are out of contention, they absolutely should open up talks to trade him.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

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