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Acquiring top pitching requires deft planning

Understand the cost of what it takes to land Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain or Clayton Kershaw when they get to or close to free agency, especially when Scott Feldman, Joe Blanton and Brandon McCarthy are getting more than what R.A. Dickey will make in 2013 if he isn't traded or extended.

"Front-line pitching is very expensive and hard to come by," said Indians general manager Chris Antonetti. "It's a market that's very difficult for a lot of teams to play. That's why it takes creativity."

Cleveland's deal for Trevor Bauer fits that mold. It also made more sense to trade Shin-Soo Choo instead of Asdrubal Cabrera to get a potential No. 1 starter like Bauer, because the Indians have Cabrera under their control for two years, as opposed to Choo, a Scott Boras client who is a free agent after next season. By the time Cabrera, who is signed through 2014 at a total of $16.5 million, is eligible for free agency, Francisco Lindor likely will be ready to step in at shortstop between second baseman Jason Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall.

Look, Choo is a very good player and fits a significant need for a Cincinnati team that figures to be a major threat in the National League in 2013. It is a testament to the Reds' pitching and makeup that they lost superstar Joey Votto for 51 games, had no leadoff production and still won 97 games, one fewer than the Washington Nationals.

Cincinnati's .254 on-base percentage from the leadoff slot was the worst in the NL last season. The Reds' leadoff hitters scored the second-fewest runs and had the worst OPS. Choo's lifetime OBP and OPS are .381 and .847, respectively, and whether he plays center or right field, the offense will be far different.

The Indians could have kept Choo, won as many games as possible in 2013, made a qualifying offer Boras wouldn't have accepted and received a Draft choice. But Choo was currency, and that currency brought back a potential front-of-the-rotation starter they didn't get with their top 10 picks four times in the past decade.

GM Terry Ryan took back the reins of the Twins and used the currency of Ben Revere and Denard Span -- each of whom has three years before free agency -- to get the type of power arms in Alex Meyer and Trevor May, as well as Vance Worley, that Minnesota has long coveted.

This is what Royals GM Dayton Moore had to do to get a 200-innings front man in James Shields, as well as Wade Davis. First, look at the numbers of Shields and Greinke, especially Shields, who has spent his career in the American League East:

Zack Greinke vs. James Shields, 2006-12

Greinke   Shields
78-50   W-L   87-73
1,164   IP   1,454 2/3
3.43   ERA   3.89

Consider that Davis may have learned how to deal with the fifth-to-seventh innings hump by working high-leverage relief situations these past couple of years and realizing how much his velocity ticked out of the 'pen.

But it took Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and a one-time prospect in Mike Montgomery to get two veteran pitchers to complement Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, et al. before their time runs out. Shields on the open market? Probably $100 million. Not possible for Kansas City. Myers was the Royals' $100 million to $140 million currency necessary to acquire a No. 1 or 2 starter.

"That is what is so remarkable about what Tampa does," said one AL GM. "Their currency is pitching, and they've developed it and used it better than anyone else. It's a testament to [executive vice president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman], a great manager [Joe Maddon] and the trust and belief that Andrew has in his scouts."

Which is why the Rays will wake up on Christmas morning as the team to beat in the AL East.

But if you're Antonetti, Ryan or Moore, you can make mooneyes at the Rays. You have to use what currency you have to try to get the high-ceiling arms, which is what each of them has done. This isn't rotisserie, it's the reality of the market, and Cain, Hamels and Greinke made it eminently clear what that market is in the world of 12/12/12.