The World Series has ended and the free-agent and trade market will be the next Hot Stove topic. On the top of that list is Zack Greinke — who exercised his opt-out clause in his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
To some, the question of the Dodgers not re-signing seems preposterous based on Greinke’s performance last year and throughout his career. To others, Greinke’s age and salary demands require that be passed up to sign elsewhere. In a pro/con fashion, this article will discuss the facts, statistics, realities, and prospective thoughts on the Los Angeles Dodgers re-signing Zack Greinke, for 2016 and beyond.
Pro’s to re-signing Zack Greinke
Career Statistics: According to Baseball-Reference.com, Greinke has pitched over 200 innings six times during his illustrious career with an ERA under 3.8 five out of the six years (4.17 in 2010, his last full-year with the Kansas City Royals). In 2009, he was awarded the Cy Young Award for 229.1 innings pitched, a 2.16 ERA, and 245 strikeouts. He was an American League All-Star as well.
In his three-years with the Dodgers, Greinke has been stellar. He has won 51 games and lost only 15. Greinke has been ace number “One A” to Clayton Kershaw. He has received the Silver Slugger, Golden Glove, made two National League All-Star teams, and came in 8th and 7th place in Cy Young Award voting in 2013 and 2014. His teammate Clayton Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award in 2013 and 2014. Greinke is likely a first or second option for the National League 2015 Cy Young Award next to the Chicago Cubs Jake Arrieta. Simply, Greinke has been a top-performer and loss-stopper when the Dodgers have needed him most.
2015 Statistics: Greinke saved his best for “hopefully” not last season with the Dodgers. He went an amazing 19-3, a ridiculous .864 winning percentage, with the lowest ERA of his career at 1.66, with 200 strikeouts to 40 walks.
Greinke’s ERA was one of the lowest for a qualifying starting pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968, Greg Maddux in 1994 and 1995, and Pedro Martinez in 2000. Most importantly, Greinke consistently kept the Dodgers out of losing streaks.
Mental and Physical Health: “I’ll tell you what, if I throw like that this year, Kersh better watch out.” — Zack Greinke during 2015 spring training.
Who better to understand Greinke’s mental and physical health than one of his teammate’s, starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy wrote a guest column for ESPN’s Baseball Analyst Buster Olney and described Greinke as follows:
“Small talk doesn’t interest him and he chooses his words very carefully. He doesn’t say anything he doesn’t mean. He’s not overly positive or cocky. Rather, he’s very down to earth, and fully self-aware — and he is as quick to critique himself as he is to realize when he’s executed something to perfection. Those who don’t take the time to get to know him miss just how much he brings to the table when he talks. He’s realistic, measured and unflinchingly honest . . . While Clayton and Zack now typically arrive at the same dominant results after their games, the way they get there couldn’t be more different . . . He pitches like he speaks. Carefully, methodically and full of confidence.”
Does he still suffer from anxiety? Not according to Greinke. “I don’t think about it at all. I don’t get stressed by it,” Greinke, February 2013, Spring Training.
He is obviously not bothered pitching under pressure in Los Angeles. Greinke’s performance in 2015 and throughout his career speaks for itself. He is an ace who has not seen major injury time on the disabled list.
Salary Demands: Baseball executives and analysts believe Greinke will sign a contract between five and seven years for an average annual value of $25 million per year.
According to Craig Calcaterra with NBC Sports, the contract that Greinke opted-out of “would’ve paid him $71 million over the next three years or an average of $23 million a year. That’s a few million below what Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and some other pitchers make a year, but it’s likewise a low total guarantee for a guy who just put up a season in which he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and will finish someplace in the top three of the Cy Young voting . . . By opting out, Greinke, who [turned 32 on October 21, 2015], will guarantee himself anywhere from $125-150 million, one assumes.”
Based on his most recent and career performance, and comparative baseball salaries for similar performing and aged pitchers, it is likely Greinke will make $25-30 million per year for five or seven years.
Intangibles: Good pitchers pitch better at Dodger Stadium. Dodger Stadium is one of the top pitchers’ ballparks in baseball (ranked 23/30 in Major League Baseball in runs scored per game for 2015). Greinke is a great pitcher and it is no surprise that he has pitched great at Dodger Stadium.
Chavez Ravine has been a welcome home to Greinke. To demonstrate this, here is Greinke’s 2015 stat line at home: 1.46 ERA, 10 wins, 1 loss, 17 starts, 117.1 innings pitched, 103 strikeouts to 17 walks, with a .186 opponent batting average.
The fact that Greinke gets to pitch in and against a division, the National League West, that he has dominated, helps. If he returns to the Dodgers, he will be with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt again, who is in the midst of re-signing for a two-year contract. For all we know, Greinke and his family are comfortable in Los Angeles and at Dodger Stadium.
Con’s to re-signing Zack Greinke
Age: Greinke is on the other side of thirty and rarely do pitchers perform well into the later years of their contracts. Historically, pitchers do not age well on the field. On the other hand, great pitchers have aged well in the past. Greinke is a great pitcher. His stats back it up for us. It is also comical that we consider age 32 old, but that’s baseball and professional sports for you.
Changes in Organizational Philosophy (Front Office): Andrew Freidman and Farhan Zaidi have never handed out a $100 million+ contract to a free-agent, albeit during a short tenure of one offseason. The front office is more inclined to trade for younger, controllable pitchers with high upside, while signing mid-level rotation arms like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com recently wrote that this offseason for the Dodgers “will be an indication of how aggressively management shifts from paying top dollar for proven marquee talent to its stated model of sustainable, in-house player development.”
Think of moves that ship Andre Either and Carl Crawford with money to American League teams (designated hitter rule) for young arms in return. This front office has been more inclined to “eat” money in exchange for talent. We shall see if they are inclined to spend money on free-agents like Greinke. In this manner, Joshua Sadlock with BaseballEssential, recently wrote a short interesting article about Greinke re-signing with the Dodgers, it is worth a read.
Availability of Other Free-Agent Pitchers: Let us start by naming the top available starting pitchers that the Dodgers could sign beyond Greinke: David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto. All three are two-three years younger than Greinke. All three have ace quality stuff like Greinke with little to no injury history.
Number two and three rotation starters include: Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Doug Fister. Then we have: Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Ian Kennedy, Mike Leake, Tim Lincecum, John Lackey and more. Out of all these pitchers, only John Lackey is older than Greinke at age 37. However, out of all these pitchers, Greinke is the best by the numbers, especially in 2015. (Source: ESPN).
The Dodgers could also trade some of their young power hitters (Cody Bellinger, Scott Schebler and Kyle Jensen, with Catcher/2B Austin Barnes for the likes of a Chris Sale or Sonny Gray, aged 26 and 25). Might be wishful thinking there. The Dodgers also have up and coming pitching stars Julio Urias, Yadier Alvarez, and Walker Buehler already in their system, with Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu waiting to return.
Walk Year Performance: There are some serious debates over whether the statistics actually back up the claim that baseball players and athletes in general perform better in walk years. On the one hand, Greinke just had the best year of his career, his walk year (or opt-year would be better stated). On the other, it might just be the psychology of motivation. Baseball Prospectus writer Gary Huckabay once wrote: “[T]here might well be something to the motivational effect of the walk year, at least for hitters. After all, doesn’t everyone work a little harder — or at least make it look like they’re working harder — when the boss is figuring out bonuses for the year?”
If interested, here are some additional articles worth a read on walk year performance by baseball players:
Overall, the statistics do not provide conclusively that baseball players perform better in walk years. Greinke did perform better in his opt-year, be he has been consistently good, and many times, great over his career.
Keep reading for our conclusion on not whether the Dodgers should sign Greinke but where Greinke will be playing in 2016.