The World Series begins tonight as the New York Mets face off against the Kansas City Royals. This will mark the second straight World Series appearance for KC after they lost in seven games in 2014. Much of the Royals recent run of success can be traced back to one specific transaction, one that involved our own beloved local nine: the six player blockbuster that sent Zack Greinke (and Yuni Betancourt) to Milwaukee on December 19th, 2010. Given the Royals success on the heels of the Brewers awful season, it's natural for fans to feel bitter about the deal. However, then - and now - it was the right deal for the Milwaukee Brewers to make.
Those Brewers had one of the best offenses in the league. Led by the dynamic duo of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun and supplemented by the likes of Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Nyjer Morgan, the Brewers finished first in home runs in 2011, fourth in fWAR, and fifth in runs scored. The pitching staff, however, had long been a different story. Struggling seasons in 2009 and 2010 were due mostly to failures to produce and build a strong pitching staff, as fans were forced to watch the likes of Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, and Dave Bush on a nightly basis. Milwaukee had the NL's third worst ERA and FIP in 2010.
The Brewers finally sought to change that for the 2011 season, acquiring a proven mid-rotation type in Shawn Marcum and pushing themselves over the top by getting an ace in Greinke. Their staff ERA dropped by nearly a run and ranked seventh in the National League at 3.64, finally giving the offense the support it needed to win games. Greinke was the key to a staff that won 96 games overall, leading the team with 3.9 fWAR and 10.54 K/9 despite missing the first month of the season with injury. The Brewers won their NLDS matchup with the Diamondbacks and came within two games of the World Series before being eliminated by the hated Cardinals.
The Brewers would falter to start 2012 and eventually traded Greinke for three prospects - Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena - all of whom have made the major leagues for Milwaukee. It's safe to say, however, that without Greinke the "Glory Year" of 2011 doesn't happen for the Milwaukee Brewers.
On the flip side, the three of the four players that Milwaukee sent to KC ended up becoming significant contributors to the Royals' success. Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar have become fixtures in Kansas City's lineup, while Jake Odorrizi was used to help acquire James Shields and relief ace Wade Davis (the fourth player, Jeremy Jeffress, didn't really make his mark in KC and ended up finding his way back to Milwaukee). To think the Brewers would have been better off by holding on to these players at that time is incorrect.
Lorenzo Cain has turned out to be the best player of that bunch, but he never played more than 100 games in a single season until 2013 at age 27, two seasons after the Brewers traded him. Since then, he's accrued 14.2 fWAR with a 109 wRC+. The man the Brewers had playing center field during most of that time was Carlos Gomez, who put together a 120 wRC+ and 15.7 fWAR over the same span while capturing a Gold Glove in 2013. Trading Cain allowed Gomez the opportunity to blossom into the star that we know and love in Milwaukee, and also helped us net the big haul of prospects we got at this trade deadline.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar is the other former Brewer-turned everyday Royal. He's a speedy, light-hitting, supposedly defense first player with a .262/.298/.344 batting line, 145 stolen bases, and -7.2 Fielding Runs Above Average in 973 games during his career. Escobar is 28 and would have been a free agent after this season if Kansas City hadn't signed him to a cheap contract extension in 2012. The Brewers current shortstop is Jean Segura, who has a .266/.301/.360 slash line, 96 stolen bases, and a whopping 54.8 FRAA in his 479 game career. Segura is 25 and won't be a free agent for another three seasons (though he'll likely be traded before that). Escobar has been somewhat of a good luck charm for the Royals, but he's not much, if any, better or more valuable than Jean Segura is.
In the end, the trade ended up working out excellently for both sides. Milwaukee got the ace they needed to propel their contending team deep into the playoffs, and the rebuilding Royals restocked a devoid farm system with talent that helped them start making their postseason runs four years later. Had the trade not occurred, it's exceedingly likely that neither of those outcomes would have come to fruition. There should be no regrets or buyer's remorse about that fateful deal, and Brewers fans should be grateful that we have at least that fantastic 2011 run to look back fondly upon.