Zack Greinke got his “Welcome to Milwaukee” press conference yesterday and he seemed genuinely happy to be there. He had made it very clear over the past year or so that he wanted to play for a winner and now he has his wish.
I don’t have a problem with Greinke wanting to play for a winner and eventually forcing his trade; over the years, many star players were stuck on bad teams and several ultimately demanded a trade to get the chance to win.
I get it.
But none of those players gave up on his team because they were losers. None of them saw their numbers decline because they couldn’t give their all for a losing team.
Greinke’s Cy Young season in 2009 was special. He went 16-8 with a sparkling 2.16 ERA, striking out almost 10 batters per game while walking just two. And over the first two months of last season, he continued pitching at that same level.
But by June, he was starting to give up chunks of runs and he seemed less focused. His September ERA was 5.92 and he began to look like he didn’t care.
A year earlier, he told the Kansas City press, “I don’t want to play anywhere else,” but by the end of last season he switched agents so that his trade could come quicker. There were grumblings all summer that he had just given up.
If this is true—and I have no verifiable proof to that end—why would Brewers’ players want him on their team? And certainly, Nationals fans would have had mixed feelings about the acquisition of Greinke because of their experience with a player who not too long ago dogged it for two seasons in Washington.
I was stunned when the Nationals obtained Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez in a multi-player trade four years ago. They gave up just two relievers and a couple of utility players.
Kearns was a rising star who had averaged .265-25-95 over a 162-game season to that point in his career. His difficulties since, though, had nothing to do with desire.
Lopez, however, is another story.
He made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the trade that brought him to Washington, but he was a professional and I believed the attitude wouldn’t affect his performance.
Over his first five major league seasons, Lopez averaged .260-18-72 over 162 games and batted .291-23-85 the year before the trade. He was on his way to a similar season when he was shipped to Washington in early summer.
In 2007, his only complete season with the Nationals, Lopez batted .245/.308/.352 with nine homers and 50 RBI. At the time of his release the following year (at the trade deadline), Lopez was batting .234/.305/.314.
That’s pretty bad.
The Cardinals signed him shortly after his release, and in 156 at-bats he hit .385/.426/.538 with four homers and 21 RBI. That’s twice as many homers and runs batted in with the Cardinals in half the at-bats.
That’s pretty good.
So in the five seasons before playing for the Nationals, he was a solid offensive shortstop. And in the two-plus years after leaving the Nationals, Lopez was a solid offensive shortstop.
But in parts of three seasons with the Nationals, he sucked big-time.
The only difference was that he didn’t want to play in Washington. And because of that, he didn’t give his teammates 100 percent.
Oh, I don’t think he realized that is what he was doing. I’m sure that in his mind, he was playing as hard as ever.
But he wasn’t.
The same thing applies to Zack Grienke: He was Cy Young himself when he felt content, but the moment he was someplace he didn’t want to be, he became the most mortal of pitchers. Beginning in June last season, his ERA was 4.92. He gave up four or more runs in 11 of his last 21 starts.
For four months, he was just another pitcher.
If the Brewers play well next season, Greinke stands a good chance of winning another Cy Young award. Over the last five seasons, he has a 3.32 ERA, which translates to about 2.82 in the National League.
He’ll be dominant.
But what if the Brewers aren’t in a pennant race? How long will it take before he loses focus and his numbers again become mediocre? Will he ask—once again—to be traded to a contender?
Zack Greinke, Felipe Lopez or any one player just isn’t worth it.