After Zack Greinke turned down a trade to the Washington Nationals, which I wrote about in today’s paper, he was still at a career crossroads. He had made it clear to the Kansas City Royals that he wanted to be traded, and the Royals were working to make it happen, but Greinke wanted to go to a team he considered an immediate contender.

The Milwaukee Brewers wanted Greinke and had been after him all winter. But Greinke seemed unsure if the Brewers met his main criterion. The major question facing the Brewers was whether to trade slugger Prince Fielder, who would reach free agency after the 2011 season (and whom the Brewers believe they have little hope of re-signing), or retain Fielder, acquire some premium pitching at whatever cost, and go all-in for 2011.

“He said we were a team he was always looking at, but he wasn’t sure which direction we were going,” Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin said. “The media was writing we were going to trade Prince [Fielder] and have to rebuild. [Greinke] is an avid follower of our game, and when he heard we were going to in fact keep Prince and trade for [pitcher Shaun] Marcum, it changed everything.”

Greinke had the Brewers on his original “no-trade” list, but modified the list to exclude the Brewers and thus permit the trade. It came down on Dec. 18, with the Brewers sending four top young players to Kansas City.

“We’ve had a strong farm system the last few years,” Melvin said. “You don’t make trades for CC Sabathia [in July 2008], Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum without having a good farm system. We can’t get involved with free agency [given the team’s small-market status], but we knew if there was a chance to trade for [pitching], we’d be very aggressive to do that. Very seldom are No. 1 type pitchers available for trade.”

The perception remains that this is a go-for-broke season for the Brewers, with a handy escape clause – i.e., trading Fielder, as well as one or more of their top pitchers – should they find themselves out of contention by midseason.

But Melvin rejects that notion, pointing out that all five members of his projected starting rotation – Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson – are under the Brewers’ control through at least 2012.

“People say this is a one-year, all-or-nothing proposition,” Melvin said. “But that isn’t the case at all.”