CINCINNATI — Tuesday, the Texas Rangers placed Colby Lewis on the disabled list with right elbow tendinitis.
Wednesday, a Texas Rangers scout arrived at Great American Ballpark for Zack Greinke’s start against the Cincinnati Reds.
There are no scouting coincidences in the final days of June. Greinke could become this year’s Cliff Lee — for the Rangers or someone else.
Other teams — including the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels — had talent evaluators on hand Wednesday. But they had attended Tuesday’s game, as well, an indication that the Cincinnati-Milwaukee series was part of their regular coverage. The Rangers’ scout came to Cincinnati for Wednesday’s game only. And on the final day of the Reds’ homestand, this had all the hallmarks of a special assignment related to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
In all, eight major-league teams had scouts in the house. And they saw Greinke’s latest impressive outing — six innings, two earned runs — as Milwaukee earned a needed 8-4 victory.
Get ready for a month of nonstop Greinke trade updates. It will be a surprise if he’s not pitching elsewhere by Aug. 1. My colleague Ken Rosenthal reported this week that the Brewers are preparing to move Greinke, a prospective free agent, if they are unable to sign him to an extension before the deadline. At this point, there is no evidence the sides are making progress.
Asked how likely it is that he will sign a new contract before July 31, Greinke said, “I don’t know anything about that. I’m not really talking about it. I talked about it in spring training. I haven’t really talked about it since then.”
Greinke said he hasn’t paid much attention to the trade rumors, adding, “I’m still assuming that we come back. I know we’re a little bit out (7 1/2 games), but we’ve got a lot of talent on our team. We’ve been playing good. We’re just not putting the wins together. If we get on a nice little roll, things could change. That’s kind of the focus now.”
(A word here on the team: As much as I respect Greinke’s baseball acumen, I can’t envision a scenario in which the Brewers contend for a playoff berth this year. They are suffering from deficits in talent, leadership and energy following a number of key departures after last season. Injuries haven’t helped. The Brewers will be deadline sellers. I am almost certain of that.)
OK, back to Greinke. By now, his story is well known. He stepped away from baseball in 2006 because of social anxiety disorder, and there are questions within the industry about how well he would adjust to pitching in New York or Boston. Even if those concerns are legitimate, he looks like The Answer for just about every contender except the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox.
Time will tell if the CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte injuries change the Yankees’ thinking. After all, Greinke entered Wednesday with the highest WAR of any pitcher in the majors, outside of Justin Verlander, according to FanGraphs.com. Greinke has shaved a run off last year’s ERA — 2.82, down from 3.83 — thanks in part to a new cutter that has helped him against left-handed hitters.
Greinke had a poor showing in the playoffs last year but otherwise performed well in his first season pitching for a contender. He won the American League Cy Young Award with Kansas City three years ago, so there are no questions about his ability to succeed in the superior league. He fared well during interleague play this year — 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in four starts — which makes for another impressive line on his résumé.
“He’s good,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said admiringly. “He gets it. He studies it. He’s a great athlete. His whole package is really what makes him so valuable.”
The Rangers are perhaps the most obvious fit for Greinke. The Texas DL now includes four starting pitchers: Lewis, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. Doubts persist about Feliz’s ability to start, since he logged barely 40 innings this year before landing on the disabled list.
At the moment, the Rangers’ starting five consists of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Roy Oswalt, Scott Feldman and rookie Justin Grimm. Of that group, only Darvish and Harrison were penciled into the rotation when spring training began. So, yes, the Rangers would like to add a starter.
The Rangers tried to acquire Greinke once before, when he went from Kansas City to Milwaukee after the 2010 season. They have the prospect depth to make a deal happen, and their clubhouse atmosphere — perhaps the best in baseball — would be a good fit for him.
Outside of Texas, a number of contenders would like to upgrade their rotations. The Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, White Sox and Indians are among them. The more money the Brewers include in the deal, the better the prospects they will receive in return.
The Brewers won’t necessarily admit it, but their motivation to trade Greinke will be high. It’s not that they want to get rid of him. But it’s hard to imagine they will compete in the near future without an infusion of pitching talent. And the best way for them to accumulate low-cost, major-league-ready arms would be by moving Greinke, fellow starter Shaun Marcum and reliever Francisco Rodriguez at the deadline.
Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin could lose as many as three starters to free agency after this season: Greinke, Marcum and Randy Wolf, who has a $10 million club option and $1.5 million buyout for next year. If Melvin doesn’t trade one or more of them now, he runs the risk of having a dearth of internal replacements next year.
Barring injury, Greinke is probably going to be traded between now and July 31. For now, he’s scheduled to pitch at home next week against the Miami Marlins — as the scouts are already aware.