I still can’t get over how wrong I was about Kevin Gregg.
I’m not criticizing myself, mind you. Sometimes I deserve it, but failing to recognize that Gregg had completely reinvented himself as a 34-year-old is not going to drive me to flagellation. No, instead, I just mean that I can’t get over how hilariously the whole thing has played out. When the Cubs signed Gregg to a minor league deal back in mid-April, here’s what I said, in part:
Today the Chicago Cubs announced that they’ve signed former closer – and former Cub – Kevin Gregg to a minor league deal.
OMGLOL NEW CLOSER ROFL.
No, no. The Cubs have probably been talking to Gregg, 34, who’s been waiting for the right opportunity, for some time now. With Carlos Marmol flailing and Kyuji Fujikawa injured, it’s as likely that Gregg decided to move on the Cubs as it is that the Cubs got desperate. The AAA bullpen has a number of interesting fringe options already, so I just can’t see the Cubs being induced into a Gregg-sized panic at the big league level. Depth never hurts, and Gregg has pitched successfully in the big leagues. For now, the Cubs will stash him in the minors, and see what he’s got left in the tank. That’s all this is.
OMGLOL NEW CLOSER ROFL? Yes, yes, Brett. Yes. Yes.
It didn’t take but two or three appearances for me to start tweeting things like, “Is it just me, or does Gregg actually look good?” Even after a month of effective pitching, I still couldn’t really believe it. Gregg had become the Cubs’ closer, and was now the Cubs’ most reliable reliever. Nothing that happened was Gregg-sized panic – it was Gregg-sized lightning in a bottle.
Here we are, two months later, and, while the numbers still fall in the small sample size danger zone, those numbers match the performance you’re seeing with your eyes. Gregg hasn’t blown a save, his ERA is under one, and he’s striking out 27.8% of the batters he faces. He walks just 8.1% of them, and he’s given up just one homer in 21.2 innings. He’s all about his sinker this year, and his fastball has fantastic movement. He looks poised, confident, and effective every time he takes the mound. I just … I mean … I can’t get over it. It’s hilarious, and awesome.
But, alas, Gregg’s closing for a team without a 2013 playoff future. He’s also a free agent at the end of the year, and we’re approaching trade season. Fortunately or unfortunately, that requires that we view everything he does right now through the lens (or goggle, if you prefer) of trade value. Gregg actually has some now, and teams are interested.
Buster Olney recently wrote about the trade market for back-end relievers, and it seems extremely thin (Gregg is mentioned approvingly among the small handful of available relievers). The best option is probably Jonathan Papelbon, but Ruben Amaro keeps saying he has no interest in trading the Phillies’ closer.
Is it plausible that Gregg could become one of the best closers available on the trade market this year? I’ll spare you the drama: the answer, unbelievably, is yes.
The more important question, of course, is how much could Gregg net in trade? It’s a question we’ve wrestled with here before, and there’s not a clear answer for a guy with such an atypical trajectory.
To give you a sense of the upper boundary – i.e., the absolute best the Cubs could do in a sell trade involving only Gregg – I took a look at a couple prominent closer deals last year at the Trade Deadline involving mere rentals (i.e., guys who were set to be free agents at the end of the year).
Last year, the Royals traded Jonathan Broxton to the Reds for prospects Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran, and the Mariners traded Brandon League to the Dodgers for prospects Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom. Prior to 2012, Sulbaran was the 12th best prospect in a good Reds system, and Joseph was just outside of the top 20, according to John Sickels. Landry and Bawcom were just outside of the Dodgers’ top 20, again, according to Sickels.
So, as of last year, the market was bearing two legit prospects – not top prospects, but legit prospects – for a quality rental closer. I wouldn’t have thought Gregg could net more than one prospect in a team’s 15 to 25 range, but maybe that sells him short.
It’s important to emphasize that League and Broxton had better track records going into the trades, and it would be fair to have had more confidence in their abilities after the trades than a receiving team might have in Gregg. Then again, I could argue that Broxton, at least, was trending downward before a resurgent 2012 first half with the Royals, and League was nowhere near as effective in early 2012 as Gregg has been this year. I could also argue that the fact that League was making $5 million when he was traded, and Broxton was making $4 million would make them slightly less attractive than Gregg, who is making the Major League minimum.
All in all, could Gregg net the kind of return the Royals and Mariners got? Maybe. My gut says no, but the market is what the market is. If the Cubs can pair Gregg with another player, then I really think we could see a surprisingly strong return. Even without doubling Gregg up, if he continues to pitch this well, I’m starting to think a top 10 prospect in an average system isn’t out of the question, or perhaps two prospects in a team’s top 25. For a guy the Cubs picked up off of the scrap heap in April, that’s incredible.
And, no, I still can’t believe it.