Ranking the Top 10 Landing Spots for Zack Greinke in MLB Free Agency

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IJanuary 3, 2022

Ranking the Top 10 Landing Spots for Zack Greinke in MLB Free Agency

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Zack Greinke's time with the Houston Astros is likely done after two-and-half seasons, which ended in two World Series appearances and one game shy of another in the pandemic-shortened 2020. 

    That's not a bad run at all, to say the least, even if the Astros could not win a title with Greinke on the squad. 

    The 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner is expected to sign with a National League team, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale. Greinke has a stated goal of getting to 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases in his career. 

    He's said it's the only milestone he cares about. He never wanted to throw a no-hitter, because "a bunch of nonsense comes with it." But he wants to hit bombs and steal bases. 

    Of course, the National League could adopt the designated hitter through a new collective bargaining agreement, which might nullify its prioritization for Greinke if he's indeed serious about getting his personal milestone.

    So here is a mix of 10 possible landing spots from both leagues. When ranking these, consider Greinke's preference to play in the National League, his desire to win at age 38, and where he can be most useful. 

10. New York Yankees

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Can the New York Yankees ever be ruled for any free agent, especially one as famous as Greinke?

    This would seem like an odd fit on the surface. Greinke, with his history of social anxiety, has never shown much interest in the pomp and circumstance that comes with playing in New York. In addition, there have been no reports linking the 38-year-old right-hander to the Yankees.

    What makes this an interesting idea is if Greinke is willing to move to the bullpen, where the Yankees could still use him in a lower profile role with fewer media obligations (especially if clubhouses are still closed). Sure, Greinke was a shell of himself at times last season with Houston, where he posted a 4.16 ERA in 171 innings and collected his fewest strikeouts per nine innings since 2005.

    But when the postseason arrived, the veteran moved to the bullpen during the ALDS. Since he was struggling to eat innings but could still deliver quality pitches in spurts, he made sense for the Astros as an opener or possible long reliever.  

9. Boston Red Sox

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The Boston Red Sox need starting pitching and fell short against Greinke's Astros in the ALCS last season. Any consistently competitive team should at least be interested in Greinke, so it's reasonable to think Boston could be in the mix.

    The Red Sox have the money, and the need is there. They have Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale at the top of their rotation, which is a solid one-two punch when Sale is healthy. 

    But there is a question about their No. 3 starter spot after the loss of left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers in free agency. The Red Sox wanted to keep Rodriguez, as evidenced by their extending him the qualifying offer and reportedly offering him a multiyear deal before he chose Detroit. 

    Rodriguez signed with the Tigers for five years and $77 million for a $15.4 million annual average. 

    Boston could get Greinke for around that salary figure, but for fewer years—possibly just one or two.   

8. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Joshua Bessex/Associated Press

    The Toronto Blue Jays entered the offseason understanding their biggest free-agency needs could be filling the holes left by the possible departures of Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien. 

    That meant top-end starting pitching and infield help would be major priorities. They addressed the former by signing Kevin Gausman to a five-year, $110 million contract. 

    But what 2021 taught us about the Blue Jays is having the game's most powerful offense is not enough, even if your ace is the Cy Young Award winner. So adding Greinke would provide the rotation upgrade the Blue Jays needed whether they kept Ray or signed someone like Gausman to replace him.

    In Greinke, the Blue Jays would get a short-term boost to their rotation depth behind Gausman and Hyun Jin Ryu. As a bonus, they'd also get one of the best fielding pitchers in Greinke, who's won six Gold Glove Awards.  

    The Blue Jays should also know firsthand that Greinke still has it, since he tossed a 102-pitch complete game in a 13-1 Astros blowout win over the Blue Jays last June.

7. Tampa Bay Rays

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Rays don't require an on-field need to be interested in good pitching. It's coded in their philosophical DNA. This just seems like a perfect match—if the Rays were to allow Greinke to be his famously eccentric self

    He is widely considered one of the best baseball minds of his time, an elite competitor on the mound from the time he debuted as a 20-year-old in 2004. 

    Adding him would reinforce the Rays' young, high-upside starters such as Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Luis Patiño and No. 1 prospect Shane Baz. 

    Tampa lost Michael Wacha in free agency to the AL East rival Red Sox, and replacing him with Greinke would be a significant upgrade.

    The main question is how much he will cost at his age and in this market. Wacha signed with the Red Sox for one year and $7 million. 

    Greinke, even at age 38, would command more than that. He won't get the two years, $50 million the Astros gave former teammate Justin Verlander. But don't expect Greinke, a future Hall of Famer, to pitch for less than $10 million per year.

6. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    It's been six years since the Arizona Diamondbacks shocked the baseball world with a record-setting deal for Greinke. They signed him to a six-year, $206.5 million pact, with an average annual value of $34.4 million, which stood as a record for years. 

    Much has changed since the D-backs overestimated how close they were to contending. They have the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft and are clearly in a rebuilding phase. 

    Signing Greinke now would not come with the same opportunity cost to team building as it did in December 2015. 

    It won't keep the Diamondbacks from seriously addressing their bullpen issues, or from extending another franchise player like Paul Goldschmidt. 

    With former Astros pitching coach Brent Strom leaving for Arizona in the same role, it's hard to rule out Greinke following along to a familiar place (even though he famously once told former Royals pitching Bob McClure he doesn't like listening to pitching coaches).

5. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Here is a reunion that makes a little more sense from a competitive standpoint. It's hard to think Greinke would land with a non-playoff hopeful unless his options were limited or there was a personal connection such as with Arizona. 

    The Dodgers are searching for answers in their starting rotation after Max Scherzer signed with the New York Mets and with Clayton Kershaw on the market. 

    It would make less sense to sign both Greinke and Kershaw, since they are similarly situated as pitchers on the back end of their careers. But if the Dodgers don't retain their long-time ace, then Greinke is a viable backup plan. 

    Still, absent another move to address starting pitching, this would be a downgrade for a staff that had baseball's lowest ERA (3.01) and WHIP (1.10) in 2021. 

    They wouldn't get the same Greinke who had the most dominant three-year stretch of his Hall of Fame career there from 2013 to 2015. But he's a capable stopgap if other pitching plans fall through.   

4. New York Mets

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The New York Mets only solved part of the pitching issue by bringing in Scherzer. They lost two key pieces in Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman and still have question marks in their rotation. 

    Greinke would give the Mets a more reliable fifth option behind Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco. It's possible he even supersedes one of those players. 

    Even with a plummeting strikeout rate and velocity, Greinke had a better ERA last year than Walker, Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill.

    Greinke would bring playoff experience to a team with high hopes after such significant recent investments in Scherzer (three years, $130 million) and Francisco Lindor (10 years, $341 million).

    The Mets could use at least one more pitcher, and even with a 4.16 2021 ERA Greinke is still better than most available hurlers.     

3. San Diego Padres

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    If there is one thing to expect from the San Diego Padres, it's that they'll take chances with their pitching staff. 

    The one they assembled last year was supposed to be one of the NL's best. But that idea was derailed by injuries and underperformance—and even a brief attempt to revive Jake Arrieta's career. 

    Adding Greinke to a group of Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger and Joe Musgrove would give the Padres much-needed rotation depth. 

    San Diego's 4.54 starters' ERA (10th in the NL) was a significant deviation from how they were viewed less than a year ago. FanGraphs ranked the Padres' pitching rotation as the best in baseball last March. 

    Greinke would get San Diego closer to realizing the potential that seemed so much clearer before the 2021 season.

2. Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The World Series champions were the ones who saw him most recently, as they watched Greinke throw four scoreless innings in Game 4 of the Fall Classic and go 2-for-3 for the series at the plate. 

    Atlanta should welcome Greinke's arm and his bat. Pair him with Charlie Morton, and the Braves would have solid veteran experience with an otherwise young starting rotation. 

    Max Fried and Ian Anderson give Atlanta impressive second and third starters. But Greinke fits well at the rotation's back end, likely a better option than Touki Toussaint or Huascar Ynoa, as Mike Soroka continues to rehab from an Achilles tendon injury.

    All three of the latter pitchers are 25 years old or younger. Bringing in Greinke's experience and production could help Atlanta make another World Series run.

    He would also be utilized differently simply because Atlanta's bullpen is strong enough not to overuse Greinke the way Houston was forced to at times last year.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Cardinals have shown recent interest in aging veterans, having made midseason trades for Jon Lester and J.A. Happ last year. 

    They also guaranteed 40-year-old Adam Wainwright $17.5 million for 2022, more than two times his $8 million salary after an incredible 2021 season.

    Signing Greinke to a short-term deal would be consistent with this. The thought process that led to acquiring Lester and Happ still applies, even after their departure. 

    St. Louis reached a four-year, $44 million deal with left-handed pitcher Steve Matz before the lockout but still needs more in the rotation behind Jack Flaherty.

    Greinke's defensive prowess would also fit perfectly with a Cardinals defense that led baseball in outs above average and runs prevented, per Statcast.

    The only hitch may be that Greinke once had the Cardinals on a 15-team no-trade list when Arizona explored moving him in 2018. The question is whether his willingness to go there has changed at all.


    Prospect rankings via MLB.com unless otherwise noted.