All offseason, there has been educated speculation about what it would take to trade for Royals pitcher Zack Greinke; Kansas City would want a young pitcher back, the thinking went, as well as a middle infielder who's close to the majors. Another player or two would have to be added to get the 2008 AL Cy Young winner, and all that was with no guarantees that Greinke would resign with his new team when the last two years of his contract were up.
Now we know what it took to get Greinke. The Milwaukee Brewers landed the right-hander last night, sending four players to the Royals in a seven-player deal that got them an ace for the top of their rotation, along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. The price the Brewers paid was step: two pitchers (right-handed flamethrower Jeremy Jeffress and 20-year-old Jake Ordorizzi), as well as shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and a player to be named later, who is believed to be close to the majors.
There were reports that the Nationals were close to a deal for Greinke, but the pitcher wouldn't waive his no-trade clause to come to Washington. But let's assume the Nationals' package looked something similar: Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa, Michael Burgess and possibly Drew Storen. That would have put a bigger hole in the team's major and minor league systems than getting Greinke would have filled. Teams like the Brewers, who have deeper farm systems and are trying to win now before Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks hit free agency, can and should make deals like this. The Nationals shouldn't - at least not now.
And if that's the price for Greinke, you can bet the Rays would demand something only slightly more modest to part with Matt Garza, especially since GM Andrew Friedman continues to say he isn't planning to trade any starters. In baseball-speak, that means it would take an overwhelming offer to get a deal done, and for Garza, the Nationals would have to mortgage their system to get a pitcher who isn't as accomplished as Greinke.
So the Nationals are still left without a sure thing at the top of their rotation, but considering what's left, they might be better off that way. They could give a three-year deal to Carl Pavano, or possibly explore a trade for Ricky Nolasco if the right-hander's extension talks with the Marlins continue to go nowhere. But the price paid for Greinke would have been a big one, and in two or three years, the Nationals might look back and breathe a sigh of relief they didn't surrender so much to get him.