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Brett Lawrie, Michael Pineda, and What-Ifs

It’s always hard to find things to write about in the last few weeks before Spring Training starts, but Tuesday afternoon we got a little bit of discussion fodder. Apparently, before trading Michael Pineda to the Yankees, the Mariners discussed the soon-to-be-second-year righty with the Toronto Blue Jays. Seattle asked for Brett Lawrie, the Jays declined, and Pineda eventually wound up in the Bronx.

It’s fun to think about after the fact, and it does make you wonder if the Brewers could have possibly had Pineda this offseason if they had kept Brett Lawrie last winter. It’s an interesting scenario, but probably one that wouldn’t have played out this way.

For one, if the Brewers still had Lawrie, it would make more sense for them to keep him as their third baseman of the future — especially in a post-Prince era. The Brewers could have avoided committing to a long-term, backloaded deal with Aramis Ramirez and built a foundation around Braun and Lawrie.

That sounds great right now, but with Lawrie, the Brewers would obviously be without Shaun Marcum. The Brewers could have tried to deal for Marcum with a different set of prospects, but not without dipping into the pool of players they used to acquire Zack Greinke. And if Lawrie wasn’t used in the Marcum deal, the Royals almost assuredly would have asked for him to be in the Greinke deal. And Greinke doesn’t even accept the deal to the Brewers if the Marcum trade doesn’t go down, signifying a commitment to winning in the next two seasons.

As a result, the Brewers likely go through last season without Marcum and Greinke (or at least one of them) if they held onto Lawrie. While it’s become popular to look down on those two for underperforming during the playoffs, the Brewers don’t even make it into the tournament without Marcum carrying the rotation to start the year or Greinke finding his strikeout stuff. I’m as optimistic as the next guy, but a rotation of Gallardo-Wolf-Narveson-Estrada-??? isn’t holding off the Cardinals for a division title or winning a wildcard.

The getting-Pineda-for-Lawrie idea even assumes Lawrie would produce the way he did had he not been traded back “home.” It’s nearly impossible to prove that Lawrie’s work ethic and morale improved once he was traded to Toronto, but there are some very smart people who think the deal played a role in his explosion last season. With the Brewers, he never played a defensive position well enough to really stick. And while he hit well for his age at every level, the power didn’t really show up the way it did in 2011. He was a very good prospect for the Brewers, but nobody saw a .293/.373/.580 Major League line as a 21-year-old happening.

This is why it’s dangerous to play the what-if game — so many things are tied together that you can’t just assume things like the Brewers possibly landing Pineda for Lawrie if they had waited (and honestly, if Lawrie proved to be enough to get Pineda for the Brewers, they would’ve been better off keeping him…just like the Jays did).

All things considered, everything turned out well for just about everyone involved. The Brewers did end up with Marcum and Greinke, and were two wins from the World Series. Lawrie grew up, exceeded expectations in his first year, and now the Blue Jays have a “hometown” guy to build around. The Mariners might’ve preferred to get Lawrie for Pineda, but Jesus Montero isn’t exactly a slouch with the bat, either.