The cost of an ace

There are two top-notch, front of the line starting pitchers on the trade market this July: Zack Greinke of the Brewers, and Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Neither the Brewers or the Phillies are in much of a spot to contend this year. The Brewers are seven out in the NL Central and six games under .500, while the Phillies are somehow worse, checking in at 11 games out in the NL East and nine games under .500. It doesn't look like either team has much of a prayer at contending over the final three months of the season, and they'll both look to shop their soon-to-be free agent aces.

Hamels and Greinke will both turn 29 years old, and while Hamels has the premium factor of being a lefty, Greinke has the premium factor of being…well…better. Greinke won the AL Cy Young award in 2009 with the Royals, and has a pair of five win seasons under his belt (while also finishing at 4.9 once, and he's well on the way to another this season, logging in at 3.6 fWAR in the first half of the year). Hamels is steadier than Greinke, but has a lower peak. He's never had a five win season, but also just has one season under three wins: his 2006 rookie year, when he started only 23 games. Both players possess outstanding control (oddly, they have the same 2.26 career walk rate) and a nice ability to miss bats, each striking out over eight hitters per nine innings. 

When it comes to a return for either player, it's best to compare them to other aces traded the summer before hitting free agency. Two names immediately pop to mind: Cliff Lee (in 2010, from the Mariners to the Rangers) and CC Sabathia (in 2008, from the Indians to the Brewers). Using those two deals as a basis for comparison, we can begin to draw up the framework of a deal that would be to the liking of the Brewers or the Phillies.

When the Rangers traded for Lee, they gave up a four player package for the ace as well as reliever Mark Lowe, who is essentially a slightly above replacement level reliever. The players that Texas sent to the Pacific Northwest were first baseman Justin Smoak, second baseman Matt Lawson, starter Blake Beavan, and reliever Josh Lueke. At the time of the trade, Smoak was the 13th best prospect in baseball, a first round pick in the 2008 draft and the second best prospect in the organization. Of the other three players traded for Lee, only Beavan was one of the Rangers' top prospects coming into the year, checking in at 16th. Lueke is a live-armed reliever with character issues, and Lawson is organizational filler. So essentially, one elite prospect, one good prospects, and a couple of guys that every organization has.

Looking at the Sabathia trade, there are a lot of similarities. The Indians also got four players from the Brewers, one of which was a player to be named later. The gem of the deal was left fielder (now first baseman) Matt LaPorta, who was the #23 prospect in baseball prior to the 2008 season, and the top prospect in the Milwaukee organization. The other three players acquired by the Indians were pitcher Rob Bryson, starter Zach Jackson, and outfielder Michael Brantley. Bryson was the 11th ranked player in Milwaukee's organization, and Brantley was 24th. One elite prospect, two top 30 prospects, and a guy who'd end up being an organzational arm.

It's important to look at these two trades more than any others in the last five years because of the circumstances involved in each. Sabathia was a former Cy Young winner that turned 28 in July of 2008, the month he was traded. Lee was also a former Cy Young winner, but he turned 32 in the August after the trade…older than Sabathia, Greinke, and Hamels. Another key point is the control that each team would have for their new pitchers. It's not fair to look at the two Cliff Lee trades in 2009, because the Phillies (and then, the Mariners) had more than three months of control over him. The same goes for the Phillies' trade for Roy Oswalt, the Angels' trade for Dan Haren, the Diamonbacks' trade for Trevor Cahill, and even the Brewers' trade for Greinke.

So to fans of the Brewers and Phillies, as well as the fans that are petitioning their favorite team to trade for one of the aces, be realistic in your expectations. Is it cool to think a package with the Rangers centered around Martin Perez and a couple of other prospects would be fair value? Yeah, that's fine. Is it cool to think a package centered around Perez, Jurickson Profar, and more is fair enough? Naw, let's think realistically here. By the same token, don't think that your team is going to pick up one of the two aces by just giving up Randall Delgado and Tyler Pastornicky. It would probably take something along the lines of Delgado, Pastornicky, and a pair of other prospects.

At any rate, it'll be very interesting to see where each of these players ends up at the end of the month.

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About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.