Last week Dave Cameron of fangraphs speculated that the Giants could trade Tim Lincecum this offseason in an attempt to gain some big time salary relief, allowing them to sign a couple of big time offensive free agents (e.g. Jose Reyes and /or Carlos Beltran, as well as receiving a key prospect such as Jesus Montero in a trade.
The thought went something along the lines of: Yankees and Red Sox need pitching help, Giants are at the limit of their payroll, Tim Lincecum is getting more expensive every year, and the team desperately needs offense to compete....
Lincecum has an approximate surplus value of $20 million, he has two years of arbitration left. Despite big arbitration contract awards, he probably still projects as a 5 WAR type of pitcher; Add to it that the Free Agent pool of starting pitchers is extremely thin, the Yankees or Sawx might be willing to overpay for the privilege to acquire the former 2 time Cy Young Award winner. Part of Cameron's assumption also included the Giants sending Aubrey Huff and his albatross contract to whoever acquires Lincecum, freeing up around $25 million worth of salary space for the Giants to then go and pick up a Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes type. Lincecum's production would be difficult to replace, but if you are able to pick up Montero and Reyes or Betances/Nunez/Sanchez and Fielder are both moves that improve the Giants.
The reason this type of move is being speculated is because the Giants are unwilling to go above the $125 million payroll mark. Trading Lincecum could free the space needed on the payroll, improve the team going forward and Giants fans would most likely continue to sell out all of its home games, sell merchandise, and keep them competitive for the next 4 to 5 years even without one of its marquee players on the team any longer. But the team could also just go over their self imposed payroll limit, sign a Fielder or Reyes type and absorb the cost once Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Aubrey Huff's contracts come off of the books in 2014. It would be a couple of years of financial sorrow for the sake of winning. But the case with the Milwaukee Brewers, nothing like that of the Giants is completely different.
If premium pitching is so scarce this off-season, then why arent thoughts like this being presented with the Brewers and Zack Greinke?
The Brewers need to remain financially prudent to both compete and survive. Being in the smallest market in major league baseball, the 3 million fans they have drawn 3 of the past 4 years most likely only produced one profitable year for the organization (that being this year, were two playoff series generated a ton of income for the franchise). Not only do the Brewers have the small market problems that the Giants or Yankees or Red Sox do not, they also have a roster that was built for an "all in" type of season in 2011, and though they still should compete in 2012, is designed more for driving off of a cliff after this season.
Zack Greinke is set to make $13.5 million in 2012, after which point he will become a free agent. The going rate for him is probably a bit above the 5/$85 contract that Jered Weaver signed this past season with the Angels. Greinke could sign a contract like this, but he would be leaving around $30 million on the table compared with what he could probably get in free agency. And even if Greinke did agree to a contract like this, the team has $40 million committed to only 4 players going forward in 2013. I doubt they would like to go 5 players $55 million.
Moving Greinke frees up $13.5 million of payroll space and replacing him may not be as difficult as it may seem. They could make one of the following trades, then sign Edwin Jackson to a 4/$40 million type of deal and use remaining funds to shore up other weaknesses. The Brewers will need a new First Baseman with Prince Fielder’s departure via Free Agency, and they need a SS and 3B as well.
The following is a list of possible suitors for Zack Greinke (or Tim Lincecum for that matter):
1. Yankees would send Montero + for 2 years of Lincecum, they might send him to Milwaukee for 1 year and send a long a 4th OF or bullpen arm to cement the deal.
2. Red Sox might be willing to send Jose Iglesias and Josh Reddick for a year of Greinke to solidify their pitching staff.
3.White Sox might send Davan Viciedo and Chris Sale, given that Kenny Williams tends to over pay for vets.
4. Indians would perhaps send Lonnie Chisenhall, seeing as how they have shown a willingness to send prospects for proven vets with the Drew Pomeranz/Alex White for Ubaldo Jimenez trade last year.
5. Reds could send Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal if they felt the need to go "all in".
6. Angels could send Mark Trumbo/Kendry Morales and Tyler Chatwood to keep up with the Rangers and then possibly sign Fielder as a Free Agent.
The big "if" of course lies in "if the contra team would make that trade in order to compete for one season, and then send such players over Milwaukee's way. The Yankees and Red Sox would do it to retain competitive advantages over each other, the White Sox might do it because they need a front line starter after the majority of their rotation left this season due to FA, The Indians survived with an average 3B last season and if they felt Greinke gives them a better shot at winning in 2012 than Chisenhall would for the next 6 years, they could make that move. The Reds would only do it if they felt they could win in 2012, and the Angels would do a deal like this simply to keep track with the Rangers and have a shot at a playoff spot.
Each of the possible moves improves the Brewers for next season (or at the very least lets them be where they would with Greinke) and gives them cheap production for the following 5.
The Lincecum thoughts were because they don’t want to pass a payroll limit out of convenience not need. The Giants don’t really NEED to make a move to improve themselves; they could absorb a couple of financial losing seasons for a couple of years and hold onto Lincecum for those rides.
The Brewers SHOULD do a deal like this because it is financially and baseball smart. It saves money, it improves production, and the horizon for winning stays out in the future instead of abruptly ending on September 30, 2012 when Greinke is no longer a Brewer.