Signing a top starting pitcher appears to be the offseason priority for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
With their megabucks ownership, the Dodgers can presumably afford to get the best pitcher on the market. That's why many expect the team to be a major player for Zack Greinke, the top pitching target in free agency.
But is it possible that Greinke's contract demands might make even the Dodgers think twice about how much they want to spend on him?
ESPN's Jayson Stark tweeted that free-agent starter Anibal Sanchez is also on the Dodgers radar, in addition to Greinke and Hiroki Kuroda. Even though he figures to fetch an impressive contract on the open market, Sanchez would be a lower-cost alternative to Greinke and willing to sign a longer-term deal than Kuroda.
Yet in September he compiled a 2.43 ERA in six starts, striking out 37 batters in 40.2 innings. Sanchez was even more impressive during the postseason, finishing with a 1.77 ERA in three starts. He also notched 18 strikeouts in 20.1 innings.
That would make Greinke the highest-paid pitcher in MLB, according to Cot's Contracts, with a $25 million annual salary, which would exceed what CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies Cole Hamels are paid. (In terms of total contract value, a $150 million would be exceeded only by Sabathia's $161 million deal—and he had to opt out to boost its value.)
Sanchez would cost half that much, based on projections from several analysts around baseball.
The New York Post's Ken Davidoff pegs Sanchez for a five-year, $80 million contract. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman predicts a five-year, $70 million deal. An expert Heyman consulted thought Sanchez would get $65 million in free agency.
Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter infamously told the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez that the team can "take on significant money." The Dodgers did just that a day later, taking on $260 million in the blockbuster trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto over from the Boston Red Sox.
But can Walter and the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group keep trucking pallets of money at top talent? No team has an unlimited budget. Right?
Perhaps Greinke is where ownership and general manager Ned Colletti will draw a line.
It would be one thing if the Dodgers needed a No. 1 starter for its rotation. But Clayton Kershaw—the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner who followed up with another excellent performance this year—fills that role in Chavez Ravine.
Do the Dodgers want to pay $150 million for a No. 2 starter? And if Greinke gets that much from the team, how much will Kershaw ask for when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season?
The Dodgers surely want to lock Kershaw up to a long-term contract extension before that and avoid him hitting the open market. But can they afford to pay $300 million—if not more—to just two starting pitchers over the next six to seven years?
Looking at Cot's Contracts, Matt Kemp is owed $128 million through 2019. Adrian Gonzalez has $133 million remaining on his contract over the next six years. Carl Crawford is due to be paid $102.5 million for five more years on his deal.
Andre Ethier will be paid $85 million through 2017 (and possibly $100 million through 2018). Hanley Ramirez has two more years on his deal worth $31.5 million, as does Josh Beckett. Ted Lilly is on the books for $12 million next season.
Paying those eight players next season will cost the Dodgers $128.75 million. That would have been the sixth-highest payroll in MLB this year.
Add $25 million for Greinke (presuming that he's paid that much for each year of his contract) and the total goes up to $153.75 million. That would rank fifth in 2012 team payrolls and doesn't even cover a full roster.
Perhaps that doesn't matter to the Dodgers. Maybe a payroll exceeding $200 million is considered the cost of doing business in building a MLB championship contender.
The expectation has been for the team's new ownership—which paid over $2 billion to buy the franchise—to pay big money and become MLB's West Coast superpower. Getting Greinke, the top starting pitcher on the market, fits in that plan.
But it might not be the worst thing for the Dodgers if the Angels re-sign Greinke or another team like the Rangers swoop in to nab him. They can still get a pitcher who's roughly the same age and capable of throwing 200 innings with 200 strikeouts.
Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez would be paid like a No. 2 starter and help keep the Dodgers payroll within some semblace of reason. We'll find out soon enough if that's even a goal for the team's new owners in their first offseason shopping season.
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