Zack Greinke Is the $35M-Per-Year Steal Who Could Swing the MLB Offseason

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterNovember 15, 2018

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke throws to a Los Angeles Dodgers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

A Zack Greinke trade would be complicated, kind of like Greinke himself.

But a Greinke trade could be a real winner. Again, like Greinke himself.

If the right team gets him at the right price, it could change the whole story of this winter and who's the biggest winner. And, potentially, decide next season's champion.

Greinke has been in the news this week after Ken Rosenthal wrote about the possibility of a trade in The Athletic. While the Arizona Diamondbacks haven't come right out and said they would like to move him or eat some money on the contract to get that done, as Rosenthal reported, they would be willing to for the right trade partner. A deal would fit well into everything else we know about their offseason plans.

Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock are free agents, and Paul Goldschmidt is one year away from free agency. Some remaking of the roster is going to be necessary, and a 35-year-old starting pitcher making $104.5 million over the next three years isn't a great fit.

That kind of money doesn't make Greinke a perfect fit anywhere. But don't forget we once said the same thing about the $56 million over two-plus years Justin Verlander had left when the Detroit Tigers traded him to the Houston Astros in 2017. Money can be worked out if there's enough incentive to do so, and for the right Greinke deal, there should be on both sides.

The motivation for the Diamondbacks is obvious, as a team in transition needs to get out from under at least part of a contract that no longer suits it. But the motivation on the other side should be just as obvious.

Greinke's Arizona deal hasn't fully worked out, but he made it to the playoffs with them, just as he did once with the Brewers and three times with the Dodgers.
Greinke's Arizona deal hasn't fully worked out, but he made it to the playoffs with them, just as he did once with the Brewers and three times with the Dodgers.Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

Greinke doesn't throw as hard as he once did. According to the numbers on FanGraphs, his fastball velocity has dropped four straight years. But Greinke was never a pitcher who relied on overpowering hitters, and even when he did throw harder, he would regularly experiment with changing speeds.

He always looked like a pitcher who would age well, and he has. His ERAs the last two seasons have been 3.20 and 3.21 while topping 200 innings both years and pitching in a ballpark that tends to favor hitters. He can still help a team win, and he can still do it against the best opposition.

Greinke's 2018 ERA in 16 starts against playoff teams was 3.35.

One of those playoff teams, or a team that missed the playoffs but might not have with better starting pitching, would benefit by adding Greinke. But it has to be the right team.

Part of that has to do with the salary, because even if the Diamondbacks pay it down to $20-25 million a year, that's still a lot of money. But part of it has to do with Greinke himself.

"It all depends on if he wants to go [to a specific team]," said one scout who has followed Greinke's career closely. "He can help anyone if he 'wants' to pitch there."

We know Greinke has never been a fan of rampant media attention, so maybe the New York Yankees wouldn't be the best fit despite their financial resources and their need for starting pitching.

Then again, Greinke proved without a doubt he can thrive in a big market when he had three of his best seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Would he prefer a return to Southern California, where he also pitched very well in half a season with the Los Angeles Angels? The Angels could definitely use him, as their 19th-ranked MLB ERA last season makes perfectly clear. They're long overdue in providing Mike Trout with a chance to win, too.

Greinke couldn't get the 2012 Angels to the playoffs, but he would be a good addition this winter.
Greinke couldn't get the 2012 Angels to the playoffs, but he would be a good addition this winter.John Williamson/Getty Images

Or how about the Atlanta Braves, close to where he grew up in Central Florida? The Braves improved plenty in 2018, but the division series loss to the Dodgers showed a rotation that wasn't yet good enough to win in October.

Or how about the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that made a bold move in trading for Greinke in December 2010? His salary would be a tougher fit for them now, after spending $80M on Lorenzo Cain and acquiring Christian Yelich via trade last offseason, but his talent still would if Arizona absorbed enough cash.

For all the Brewers showed in October about how to use a bullpen, the 2018 postseason also showed that the team with the better starting pitching performance still wins the most games. The Boston Red Sox are champions in significant part because of the way their starters pitched in October.

The Red Sox were bold three winters ago when they signed David Price as a free agent and again two years ago when they traded for Chris Sale. Greinke was the other prominent free-agent starter the year Price signed, and while he's two years older than Price, he's still an impact starter.

If a Greinke trade gets done sometime before next season, some team will feel that impact. And so will the other teams that could have made a deal and didn't.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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