As Kenny Rogers once sang, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em/Know when to walk away, know when to run." Good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day.
Oddly enough, Rogers' lyrics in the chorus of "The Gambler" are the exact words that the Los Angeles Angels need to abide by when it comes to the pursuit of their prized trade-deadline rental, Zack Greinke.
After throwing their second-, fourth- and ninth-best prospects at the Milwaukee Brewers on July 27th, the Los Angeles Angels were all-in on Greinke for the remainder of the 2012 season, with the goal of signing him long-term after season's end.
The Angels held baseball's third-highest Opening Day payroll in 2012, topping out at almost $155 million in player salaries. But after making a big splash at the trade deadline for Greinke, the Angels seemingly knew they'd have to trim a substantial amount of payroll in the offseason if they wanted to keep him long-term.
Then came the deals.
On Halloween, the Angels made their first big-time move by shipping off Ervin Santana to the pitching-deprived Kansas City Royals. He was due $13 million for the 2013 season, the final year of what ended up being a five-year, $42 million deal. Santana's season-to-season Jekyll/Hyde ways were too much for the Angels to stomach, so off he went.
Despite the bloated amounts of long balls he'd give up, the Angels will certainly miss his "F*** it, let's pitch" attitude (that interview moment was absolutely priceless).
This was step one in freeing up Greinke money.
Just a few days later, the Angels would trade Dan Haren to the Chicago Cubs for Carlos Marmol, have the deal fall through and then buy out his option for 2013 (a $15.5 million option bought out for $3.5 million). Yeah, that was a real mess.
After finishing seventh in AL Cy Young voting in 2011, Haren was clearly not himself in 2012. He posted his first losing record (12-13) and his highest ERA (4.33) since he became a full-time starter following a trade from St. Louis to Oakland back in 2005.
Believe it or not, 2012 also marked the first time in his career that he headed to the disabled list (with lower back soreness). Maybe this played a factor in his below-average play in 2012.
This was the second step in freeing up Greinke money.
Then, on Thursday, after the Angels made a, as Torii Hunter put it, "very disrespectful" offer (one year, $5 million according to CBS Sports), Hunter went and signed with the American League champion Detroit Tigers on a two-year, $26 million deal.
The Tigers needed an outfielder, and the Angels apparently didn't, opting to go younger and cheaper with Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos in 2013. Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto told the Los Angeles Times that, “It wasn’t that we couldn’t fit Torii’s salary in...we made the decision to allow Trout, Trumbo and Bourjos to play on an every-day basis.”
Fair enough. They wanted an inexpensive youth movement in the outfield. That's the choice they made.
This was step three in freeing up Greinke money.
By not opting to pay Santana, Haren and Hunter ($13 million, $15.5 million and $13.3 million, respectively) next year, the Angels suddenly freed up $41.8 million out of nowhere.
Boom. It's go time.
Go offer big money to your golden goose. Blow everyone else's offer away. Make sure that trading Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena will be worth it in the long term, despite it not being worth it in the short-term by missing out on the playoffs.
All signs pointed, and continue to point, to the Angels making a major push to sign Zack Greinke to a lucrative deal.
But if they are smart, they won't.
Despite cutting ties with 40 percent of their starting rotation in a matter of less than 72 hours, the Angels should let another team throw the kitchen sink at Greinke.
Time to bring Kenny Rogers back in here.
I know, I know. It sounds completely counterintuitive, because those prospects will effectively have been given to the Brewers for free. But the Angels need to realize that now is the time to fold 'em.
Just because you're pot committed doesn't always mean you have to go all-in. Don't just walk away from Greinke...run.
The Angels have already paid good money to Jered Weaver (who may end up being a bargain in hindsight), who inked a five-year, $85 million deal on August 21, 2011. Coming off his first career 20-win season—good enough for third in AL Cy Young voting—Weaver is set to make $16 million next year as the Angels' ace.
Last offseason, the team signed C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million contract. Wilson will earn $11 million in 2013, but his contract is back-loaded big time, as he's set to make $16, $18 and $20 million in each of his contract's final three years, respectively.
So, what does that mean for Greinke?
According to MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, "Six years, $125 million is the price tag many have associated with him."
That equates to just shy of $21 million per year. Would the Angels really be paying Zack Greinke that kind of money to be a No. 2 or even No. 3 starter? Yikes.
Let's take a look at recent big contracts given to starting pitchers.
We'll start a few years back with C.C. Sabathia. He signed his big eight-year, $182 million deal with the New York Yankees in 2009, averaging out to $22.75 million per year. It's a lot of money, but he's been a top-four Cy Young finisher three out of his four years in pinstripes. Not too terrible of an early return halfway through the deal.
Meanwhile, Matt Cain's contract extension will earn him $20 million in each of the next five seasons. Don't let the two Cy Young Awards in Tim Lincecum's cabinet fool you, Cain has truly been the model of consistency for the San Francisco Giants over the past four seasons. He's posted sub-3.00 ERAs in three of those four years, with his highest ERA being just 3.14 back in 2010. Not bad.
Finally, Cole Hamels signed a nice seven-year, $153 million deal. He will earn $22 million per year on average from 2013 through 2018. But much like the aforementioned Sabathia and Cain, Hamels also had excellent year-to-year consistency leading up to his contract. In the last five seasons, Hamels has kept his ERA under 3.10 four times, with two of those seasons coincidentally resulting in top-10 Cy Young finishes.
Now to Zack Greinke. There's no doubt that he was electric in his 2009 Cy Young Award-winning campaign. His 2.16 ERA was the best mark in all of Major League Baseball and was a full 1.31 runs lower than his previous career best. But since then, his ERA has been average-to-good, but not exactly worthy of over $20 million per year.
Since 2009, Greinke hasn't factored into a top 25 on any Cy Young Award ballot. He has posted ERAs of 4.17, 3.83 and 3.48 in those years. Although his ERA has trended downward (in a good way), his recent performance still does not warrant the hefty check that one team will ultimately pay him.
Know when to fold 'em, Angels.
Instead of forking over boatloads of cash for Greinke, the Angels would be much wiser to reallocate the money freed up by Haren, Hunter and Santana's departures to other less expensive pitching options.
Hiroki Kuroda, for one, would be an excellent fit with the Angels. A guy who has posted ERAs below 3.40 in each of the previous three seasons would be perfect to bring in on a short-term contract (which he is not opposed to).
Kuroda has shown the ability to keep his clubs in ballgames, and on a one- or two-year deal worth somewhere between $10-$13 million per season, he would be a fantastic deal for the Angels as a No. 3 starter.
There will almost assuredly be no long-term commitment with any Kuroda deal (he turns 38 in February), so why hesitate in bringing him in? He sure seems like a low-risk, high-reward move for any team that brings him in.
UPDATE 11/20/12: Hiroki Kuroda signs one-year, $15 million deal to stay with the New York Yankees (via Ken Rosenthal/Fox Sports).
Another good fit for the Halos, among others, could be former Opening Day starter Joe Saunders. Saunders pitched in some big games for the Baltimore Orioles after being acquired by them late in the season—which should certainly help his stock in the free-agent market.
If he wound up being their top pitching acquisition, the Angels would not have done their job this offseason. But as a potential No. 4 starter, Saunders could more than do the trick in his second stint in Anaheim.
The Angels could also look into an upgrade at third base, but that's another long story for another time.
For now, the Angels must be wise with their offseason moves. Throwing over $20 million at a pitcher on a long-term contract is a bold strategy (Pepper Brooks agrees), but I'm not sold that it would pay off.
A big contract to tie up Zack Greinke long-term and solidify their front three in the rotation most likely has the Angels front office salivating, but it is one of those ever-so-enticing gambles that the Angels would be prudent to step away from.
Despite your investment, now is the time to fold 'em, Angels. You'll thank yourselves later.
Where do you think Zack Greinke will end up? Comment below and let's get our Nostradamus on.