Will Zack Greinke end up with the Los Angeles Dodgers?
According to the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman, an "industry insider" believes that the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers will eventually lose out in the bidding for Greinke and the Dodgers will get their man.
Greinke is believed to be seeking a six-year, $150 million contract, a source told Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto. A $25 million annual salary would make him the highest-paid pitcher in MLB, according to Cot's Contracts. That exceeds what CC Sabathia and Cole Hamels will earn per season.
The insider also believes that the market for starting pitching is going to be extremely lucrative for free-agent arms, citing the one-year, $5 million contract that Scott Baker received from the Chicago Cubs despite not pitching this year following Tommy John surgery.
So the implication is that Greinke will get the contract he's looking for. The question is which teams are willing to pay for it.
The Rangers need a No. 1 starter for the top of their rotation. But if Greinke wants more than a five-year deal, Texas probably won't give it to him. Adam Boedeker of NBCDFW.com reminds us that the Rangers wouldn't go over five years for Cliff Lee back in 2010. The organization's philosophy likely hasn't changed since then.
The Angels don't want to lose Greinke after trading for him in July. He gives the Halos one of the best top pitching trios in MLB with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. General manager Jerry Dipoto's offseason has seemingly been devoted to clearing as much payroll as possible in order to keep Greinke.
Starting pitchers Dan Haren and Ervin Santana were shed from the roster, as was outfielder Torii Hunter and infielder Maicer Izturis. Relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen won't be brought back, either. That gives Dipoto quite a bit of room to work with.
But the Dodgers haven't imposed any such limits on themselves. Neither the years nor the money that a Greinke contract would require apparently scare them. As ESPN's Buster Olney wrote, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti is working under an ownership mandate to make the team better, no matter how much it costs. No other GM has that luxury.
The presumption is that the Dodgers will get Greinke if he's whom they really want because the team will simply outbid its rivals. Everyone else is operating with some form of a budget. The Dodgers, under the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership, are operating as if budgets are for suckers.
Assuming that Greinke does then eventually join the Dodgers, how much better does he make them? With him in their rotation, can the Dodgers expect to overtake the World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the NL West?
The Dodgers finished eight games behind the Giants in their division with a record of 86-76 this season. They were also two games short in the NL wild-card race.
Does wins above replacement provide the answer? According to FanGraphs, Greinke had a 5.1 WAR between the Brewers and Angels this year. That was good for the fifth-highest total among MLB pitchers, tied with Yu Darvish and AL Cy Young Award winner David Price.
So is it just as simple as adding Greinke's five wins above replacement to the Dodgers' 86-win total, and voila—the Dodgers are good for 91 victories next year? That could be one way of looking at it.
Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley may not be ready for the beginning of next season while recovering from injuries. Those two basically cancel each other out in terms of wins above replacement. Lilly had a -0.1 WAR this season, while Billingsley rated as an 0.1 WAR player.
Will Matt Kemp's WAR be better than 3.5 if he's fully healthy, unlike this season when he dealt with hamstring and shoulder injuries? That's actually close to his career average. Should we expect something closer to his 8.8 WAR of 2011, when he was nearly the NL MVP? Average those two figures out and we get a 6.2 WAR. Maybe that's what should be expected.
Similar questions could be asked about Adrian Gonzalez. Overall, he finished with a 3.6 WAR this season. But with the Dodgers, he contributed 0.8 wins above replacement. Is Gonzalez closer to the 6.5 WAR he had with the Red Sox in 2011? Average those two out, and he's a 3.7 WAR player, which is pretty close to his career average of 3.4.
What about Carl Crawford? He was a barely above-average player during his two years with Boston. This season, he had an 0.2 WAR. Last year, it was 0.4. Can he ever be anything close to the player he was in Tampa Bay, with whom he compiled a 7.6 WAR?
All of these players and factors should combine to push the Dodgers over 90 wins next season. They need 95 to surpass the Giants' victory total of 2012. But San Francisco isn't going to stay frozen in place. The team could regress while trying to defend its World Series championship.
What if NL MVP Buster Posey isn't as good next year? (For that matter, what if he's better?) Will Tim Lincecum improve over his poor 2012 season? Can Pablo Sandoval make it through a full season? Will Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan be brought back?
These questions don't even consider that Giants GM Brian Sabean could make a significant addition to his roster for next season. What if San Francisco has a team that could surpass 94 wins?
This year, Greinke won a combined 15 games for the Brewers and Angels. Over his career, he has 91 victories over nine major-league seasons. That averages out to 10 wins per year, which is the same number Aaron Harang and Chad Billingsley each accumulated this season.
Obviously, if the Dodgers are going to pay him $25 million per year, the expectation is to win far more games than that. Greinke has never won 20 games in a season, but the Dodgers could end up being the best team he's ever played for.
Wins aren't entirely within a pitcher's control, of course. We know that better than we ever have with the progression of advanced metrics and greater emphasis on peripheral statistics for pitchers.
Having said that, winning 15 or more games each season is probably the expectation for Greinke. If he does that, it also likely means that he's getting suitable run support. That means the Dodgers' offense will be more productive than it was this season.
Taking all of that into consideration, it seems reasonable to presume that the Dodgers will be significantly improved next season with Greinke in their rotation and should compete for a playoff bid, NL West title and possibly even a World Series berth.
Follow @iancass on Twitter