Now that Cliff Lee has decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, the focus will inevitably shift to Kansas City's Zack Greinke, a 27-year-old former Cy Young Award winner and everybody's favorite Plan B.
Baseball sources said that Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore is actively gauging the market for Greinke, and that both the Yankees and Rangers rank down the list of potential fits for Greinke. The reason: Neither team has enough of the commodity that Moore is seeking in trade.
The Royals have a wealth of pitching talent in the minor leagues, a hot first-base prospect in Eric Hosmer, an elite young third baseman in Mike Moustakas and a hard-hitting catcher, Wil Myers, who is probably going to have to shift to the outfield in the majors. As a result, sources say, Moore has focused on adding up-the-middle position players who are close to major league ready. And neither the Yankees nor the Rangers provide the best match for Kansas City.
The Yankees do have three catchers -- Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine -- among their list of top prospects. Infield prospect Eduardo Nunez would likely be part of a Yankees trade package, and sources said that outfielder Brett Gardner's name has come up in conversations between the clubs. But it appears that package wouldn't be enough to pry Greinke loose from the Royals.
The Rangers, similarly, lack position players who are close to contributing in the big leagues anytime soon. Shortstop Jurickson Profar, one of Texas' top prospects, is 17 years old and spent last season with Spokane in the short-season Northwest League. Outfielder Engel Beltre split last season between Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco.
So which teams are best poised to make a serious run at Greinke? Sources pointed to the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals as clubs that have been active in their pursuit of Greinke. The Milwaukee Brewers have also expressed interest in Greinke, but don't appear to have enough talent in their system to pull off a deal with the Royals. The Reds could have some chips to make a run at Greinke, but the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the team has yet to engage the Royals in talks for the pitcher.
Toronto has three highly regarded catching prospects in Travis D'Arnaud, J.P. Arencibia and Carlos Perez, and a tools-laden -- albeit raw -- young outfield prospect in Anthony Gose. The Jays also added to their prospect stockpile when they acquired infielder Brett Lawrie from Milwaukee in a trade for pitcher Shaun Marcum last week.
Corner outfielder Travis Snider, who is 22 years old and already has 612 major league at-bats on his résumé, would give the Royals a young, affordable left-handed bat to plug in beside Billy Butler in the middle of the order. But the Blue Jays are understandably hesitant to disrupt their lineup by dealing Snider, and they reportedly balked at giving up pitcher Kyle Drabek and Snider in a deal for Greinke.
Beyond the question of which teams can provide the best talent haul for Greinke, there are other potential hurdles to a trade. Greinke, who will make $27 million over the next two years before becoming eligible for free agency, can block trades to 15 designated clubs. Because of Greinke's well-documented social anxiety disorder issues, many baseball observers have questioned whether he's equipped to handle pitching in New York or another big media market.
Yankees officials have privately downplayed the team's interest in Greinke, and expressed concerns about his ability to pitch effectively in New York. In four career appearances at Yankee Stadium, Greinke is 0-2 with an 8.82 ERA. He has allowed 26 hits in 16 1/3 innings.
Baseball sources have said that Moore is seeking a trade similar in composition to the 2007 deal that brought Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Beau Jones from the Atlanta Braves to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Mark Teixeira. In addition to major league-ready prospects, sources said Moore is also seeking one or two high-ceiling players with longer-time horizons. Andrus and Feliz, who fit that description in the Teixeira deal, have both developed into young stars with the Rangers.
Jerry Crasnick is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.