MILWAUKEE -- After a winless road trip, it's no longer a matter of whether the Brewers will trade Zack Greinke. It's a matter of when and to where.
General manager Doug Melvin stopped short of declaring that the Brewers would swap Greinke before Tuesday's 3 p.m. CT non-waiver Trade Deadline, saying instead he was seriously weighing offers for the right-hander and could have a deal any day.
Greinke's next scheduled start is Sunday against the Nationals.
"If he's still a Brewer, he's pitching Sunday," Melvin said.
Melvin's comments to MLB.com were measured compared to a USA Today report earlier Thursday that said unequivocally that the Brewers planned to trade Greinke before the Deadline.
"I just said there was that possibility," Melvin said. "I don't think there's any secret, with the Trade Deadline, that this is a possibility. Zack knows that. We know that. Other teams know that.
"He's the best pitcher out there. A guy that could be a difference-maker. There are teams that understand that."
The trade talk intensified after the Brewers' 0-6 road trip to Cincinnati and Philadelphia, a dismal stretch that left them nine games under .500 and 13 1/2 games behind the first-place Reds in the National League Central.
Greinke, 28, is 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts this season and is coming off a seven-inning gem in Philadelphia. That game was attended by a slew of scouts. Among the clubs known to have interest in Greinke are the Rangers, Braves, Angels, Dodgers, Orioles and White Sox.
The Rangers, Angels and Braves appear to be the most serious suitors, with top Rangers and Angels scouts attending Greinke's starts for weeks and the Braves moving on after a tentative trade with the Cubs for right-hander Ryan Dempster didn't materialize.
The day he trades Greinke away would be a difficult one, Melvin said.
"He's one of my favorite players that I've had," Melvin said.
Melvin said he has not had formal negotiations with Greinke about a contract extension since Spring Training, meaning last week's report that the Brewers had extended a five-year offer in excess of $100 million -- a report Greinke himself confirmed -- was slightly inaccurate. More likely, Melvin and Greinke's agent, Casey Close, informally discussed parameters of a potential deal, and the Greinke camp decided the sides' expectations were too far apart. Greinke is on a path to reach free agency for the first time.
Asked on Thursday whether an extension was in the offing, Melvin said, "I don't think that's going to happen. You never know -- someone could pick up the phone. But I don't think so."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson doesn't expect to be facing Greinke on Sunday.
"I'd be real surprised. I know in the past, if the ballclub's intent on making a move, they're not going to pitch him two days before the Deadline," Johnson said.
There were, Johnson said, "several reasons" for his suspicion, including the fact that the Brewers added an extra arm to their bullpen earlier Thursday. There were others.
"A club would probably like to put him right in their rotation," Johnson said. "You wouldn't want to do anything to hurt him. So yeah, I'd be surprised if he's still here."
If Greinke is dealt, the Brewers would probably reinstate 23-year-old Tyler Thornburg to the rotation. Right-hander Shaun Marcum is also making strides in his return from an elbow injury.
Greinke is not the only Brewers player on the block. Melvin is trying to trade catcher George Kottaras, who was designated for assignment on Thursday morning, and could also try to trade closer Francisco Rodriguez, who blew two saves in the just-completed Phillies series. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez and first baseman-outfielder Corey Hart have also appeared in trade reports and speculation, but both are signed beyond this season.
In the Brewers' clubhouse, players waited to see what would happen.
"Upper management has tough decisions to make," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I'm glad I'm not a GM, because I don't think I could handle that job. ... Doug knows what he's doing. If trading Zack means helping us as a team and an organization, that's what he is going to do. You have to do what you have do to survive, and right now we're hanging on, trying to survive to live another day.
"It stinks. Zack is a good friend of mine, and he's done a lot for this organization in the short time he's been here. You really can't replace a pitcher of his caliber. You can't do it. Losing him is obviously going to hurt, but we have to move on and worry about the guys here and try to win games."
The Brewers will just have to move on, said reliever John Axford. His six blown saves are only part of the reason the team sat so far out of the division race on Thursday.
"It's not like we're going to give up," Axford said. "It comes to a point where Doug and Gord [Ash, the assistant GM] want to do something to help the future of the organization. They've done some good things in the past. One in particular -- getting Greinke."
Lucroy believes that, assuming Greinke's acquiring team does not sign him to an extension first, the Brewers would be in position to bring him back.
"I really, honestly think so," Lucroy said. "I know he likes it here -- I know he loves it here. So, whatever happens, he could come back. You never know. It's up to him."