MLB Free Agency: 6 Teams Most Likely to Battle It out for Zack Greinke
When MLB’s free agency period begins immediately after the World Series ends, Zack Greinke will be the hottest name on the market. With a handful of teams willing to spend lavishly, Greinke will soon become the latest member of the $100 million contract club.
In what's shaping up to be a shallow collection of free-agent talent, Greinke and Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton are the only bona fide stars. That just increases the likelihood of some overzealous owner(s) or GM(s) emerging to overpay them.
Hamilton’s ongoing bout with addiction, age and injuries will limit his long-term earning potential. But Greinke, who just turned 29, has been relatively healthy throughout his career.
He’s also four years removed from any signs of the anxiety issues that delayed his ascent to greatness.
There are a number of quality starters set to join Greinke in free agency this winter. Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse, Jake Peavy and Edwin Jackson are also set to cash in on new, multi-year deals.
Only Greinke, however, has the combination of youth and top-of-the-rotation stuff to justify a nine-figure deal running longer than five years.
Listed in reverse order, from least-to-most likely to get in on the bidding, here are six teams that should be giving Zack Greinke a call when MLB free agency begins.
6. Kansas City Royals
Given their history of trading talented young players, the Kansas City Royals would seem like an unlikely suitor for Zack Greinke. The Royals should atone for their previous mistakes by bringing their former ace home—back to the place where he won the Cy Young award.
Kansas City fans have stood by helplessly as their team’s best players were repeatedly sent away. The Royals drafted and developed future All-Stars like Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Greinke before trading them all away as their free agent years approached.
The Royals have, once again, groomed one of the best collections of young players in Major League Baseball.
Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar form the core of a lineup that will terrorize AL pitchers for the next few years. Top prospect Wil Myers should join them sometime early in 2013.
Unfortunately, the Royals have failed to surround their hitters with a competent pitching staff.
Kansas City finished 10th in the American League in team era (4.30) in 2012. Adding Greinke to the staff would give them a chance to challenge the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown in 2013.
Jeremy Guthrie was a pleasant surprise for Kansas City after coming over in a midseason trade with the Colorado Rockies. He went 5-3 in 13 starts with a 3.16 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
Former No.1 overall draft pick Luke Hochevar showed flashes of becoming a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. He put up sub-4.00 ERAs in June and August before a miserable September (9.56 ERA in six starts) completely derailed his progress.
Kansas City also has a trio of talented youngsters who all got a taste of the majors in 2012. Danny Duffy, Will Smith and Jake Odorizzi will compete for spots in the starting rotation in Spring Training after brief auditions this season.
Signing Greinke won’t transform the Royals into one of the AL’s best pitching staffs overnight. It will, however, show the players and the fans that the organization is committed to putting a winning team on the field.
Bringing back the best player they ever sent away would be a fantastic way to turn the page on 20-plus years of losing.
5. New York Yankees
Anytime a high-impact free agent like Zack Greinke hits the market, the New York Yankees are going to be linked with the player. However, unless you missed New York’s postseason flameout against the Detroit Tigers, you know that starting pitching isn’t the Yankees’ problem.
That’s not to say that New York doesn’t have concerns about their rotation heading into the offseason.
The Yankees may have two spots to fill in their starting rotation this offseason. But if that unlikely scenario occurs, Greinke won’t emerge as a plausible option given the team’s desire to get under MLB’s $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014.
Team president Randy Levine expects Andy Pettitte to delay retirement and return to New York in 2013. Pettitte made only 14 combined starts in the regular season and playoffs. He might want one more shot at another World Series ring with the Yankees.
Hiroki Kuroda could also leave via free agency, though the Yankees would do well to bring him back next season. He was New York’s most reliable starter in 2013, winning 16 games with a 3.32 ERA while pitching 219.2 innings across 33 starts.
C.C. Sabathia is locked in as the Yankees’ ace for at least the next four seasons. Phil Hughes is entering his last winter of arbitration before becoming a free agent, and Ivan Nova is not arbitration eligible until after the 2013 season.
If one of those pitchers does not return, the Yankees would likely identify a cost-effective alternative until Michael Pineda returns after the 2013 All-Star break.
The highly regarded right-hander missed the 2012 season because of a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder. The 23-year-old flamethrower remains an important part of New York’s future, however.
Even if New York has some interest in Greinke, it’s faced with the same challenges that the Red Sox meet with.
The failed A.J. Burnett signing is still fresh on the minds of GM Brian Cashman and Yankees ownership.
The media scrutiny and pressure of pitching in New York is just as bad, if not worse, than what Greinke would face in Boston. Again, that’s not a good fit given his history battling anxiety, no matter how far removed those issues are.
4. Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox won’t be quick to squander their new-found financial flexibility following a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in August. However, adding Zack Greinke to their starting rotation could expedite the team’s plans to build another World Series contender.
After a 69-93 record left Boston with its worst record since 1966, expectations for 2013 will be tempered. But two World Series titles in the last eight years has spoiled Red Sox fans, making them among the most demanding fanbases in baseball.
General manager Ben Cherington doesn’t have the luxury of taking a slow and steady approach to rebuilding the roster. The Red Sox will be expected to start challenging the New York Yankees for AL-East supremacy again beginning with the 2014 season.
After shipping Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in August, the Red Sox are without a true No. 1 starter, and their starting rotation overall is full of question marks.
Jon Lester had the worst season of his seven-year career in 2012, bringing into question his future with the team beyond 2013. Boston holds a $13 million team option on him for 2014, but it’s unlikely to exercise it unless Lester shows substantial improvement next year.
Clay Buchholz has shown flashes of becoming the ace the Red Sox hoped he’d become after a stellar 2010. But he too had one of his worst seasons as a pro, posting a 4.56 ERA in 189.1 innings pitched over a career-high 29 starts.
Boston has some promising young starters to fill the back end of their rotation.
Twenty-five-year-old flamethrower Felix Doubront struck out 167 batters in 161 innings during his rookie campaign. While he needs to harness his power into greater control—he also walked 71 batters this season—his spot in the 2013 rotation is secure.
Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, both acquired in the trade with the Dodgers, could eventually develop into stars at the front of Boston’s rotation.
De La Rosa should compete for a starting role in Spring Training after missing most of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Webster will likely start the season in the minors but could be ready for a call up by midseason.
Adding a young, established pitcher like Greinke would take some pressure off of the younger pitchers and allow them to develop at a slower pace. Still just 29, he could remain an important member of Boston’s rotation well after Doubront, De La Rosa and Webster flourish.
Given the Red Sox’s recent history with high-priced free agents, I doubt that Greinke will be targeted by them this winter. Ownership will understandably be gun shy after expensive imports like John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Daisuke Matsuzaka provided marginal returns on Boston’s investment.
Even if the Red Sox do come calling, Greinke may very well decide that the media scrutiny and high-pressured atmosphere in Boston is more than he can handle.
It’s been nearly four years since Greinke was last troubled by the anxiety issues that haunted him early in his career. But pitching in one of the league’s most intense media markets, in front of a terribly unforgiving fanbase, might cause those issues to resurface.
That would be a worst-case scenario for the Red Sox and for Greinke.
3. Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers can exact a little revenge on the Angels this offseason by pursuing Zack Greinke in free agency. The Rangers have a real need for a starting pitcher with Greinke’s pedigree, and they also have the financial resources to get a deal done.
Texas acquired right-hander Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs at the July 31 trade deadline to solidify their starting rotation. Although he compiled a 7-3 record in 12 starts for the Rangers, Dempster did so with an unimpressive 5.09 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and .276 batting average against.
Dempster is clearly better suited for the National League, and I’d be shocked if Texas attempts to re-sign him.
Greinke is a true front-of-the-rotation starter and former AL Cy Young winner (2009 while with the Kansas City Royals). He made a seamless transition back to the American League when he was traded to the Angels in late-July, and he’d give the Rangers a bona fide ace in front Yu Darvish.
Texas found out first hand this season how valuable an elite starting rotation can be. The Oakland A’s rode their stable of young guns to the AL West crown by sweeping the Rangers in the season's final, three-game series.
The Rangers were subsequently ousted by the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card game, ending their bid for a third consecutive trip to the World Series.
The addition of Greinke would provide depth and stability to a staff that includes Darvish and 27-year-old lefty and 18-game winner Matt Harrison.
The Rangers will also get Colby Lewis back in 2013 after he agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract in September. His 2012 season was cut short after undergoing surgery on his right elbow in July. Lewis should be ready to go by the start of Spring Training.
The Rangers will likely decline the $9.25 million club option on Scott Feldman for 2013. He bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation in 2012, and his performance was not worthy of such a high price tag.
Of course any interest that the Rangers have in Greinke will depend on whether or not they decide to re-sign center fielder Josh Hamilton.
There is a strong possibility that Texas will let Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, leave via free agency. Offense is not the team's biggest need, and they can likely find a serviceable replacement for his bat at a fraction of the cost.
Letting Hamilton walk would free up the cash needed to invest in the younger Greinke and address a more immediate team need.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent the past several months infusing their roster with upgraded talent through a series of blockbuster trades. While the roster is mostly set, injuries to key members of the starting rotation make it necessary for them to pursue Zack Greinke at all cost this winter.
Chad Billingsley could miss the entire 2013 season if his troublesome right elbow requires Tommy John surgery this offseason.
Ted Lilly is expected to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training after inflammation in his left shoulder ended his 2012 season in late May. But at 37, his spot in the starting rotation is not guaranteed.
The Dodgers have raised expectations for their fans since Guggenheim Baseball Management took control of the team last spring. The recent success of the San Francisco Giants (L.A.'s biggest rival) and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—who share the Los Angeles market with the Dodgers—has put even more pressure on the team to succeed quickly.
Stealing Greinke away from the Angels would go a long way towards closing the gap between the teams and re-establishing the Dodgers as the preeminent franchise in the area.
Greinke would also help the Dodgers unseat the Giants in the NL West and return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
San Francisco is making its second World Series appearance in the past three years and holds a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Tigers. Another World Series title would be the Giants’ seventh overall, breaking the tie with Los Angeles at six a piece.
Slotting Greinke in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw gives the Dodgers two former Cy Young award winners under the age of 30. That one-two punch can lay the foundation for building one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball for years to come and return Los Angeles to its former glory as one of MLB’s premier franchises.
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
From the day the Angels acquired Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers, they’ve made no secret of their intentions to sign him to a long-term contract. Anaheim may be unable to keep Greinke off the free agent market, but that won't prevent them from being the most aggressive bidder for his services.
The Angels have significant financial resources, thanks to the deep pockets of owner Art Moreno and a lucrative television deal with Fox Sports worth about $3 billion over 20 years.
They flexed their muscles last offseason by bringing in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. General manager Jerry Dipoto will have no problem shaking up the market again in order to keep Greinke.
Anaheim had a disappointing season by its own lofty standards. It finished third in the AL West behind the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics and missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Greinke thrived during his brief time with the Angels, going 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts. Having him back in the rotation behind staff ace Jared Weaver will be a major key to helping Anaheim return to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
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