Now that he's opted out of his contract with the Dodgers, Zack Greinke is poised to make all of the money. After all, we're talking about a free agent ace who led his league with a 1.66 ERA, the seventh best mark anyone has put up since 1947, a workhorse who has pitched at least 170 innings for eight straight seasons, and a craftsman who still manages to strike out around eight hitters per nine innings, while limiting walks and homers. Zack Greinke is close to the perfect pitcher, and now he's going to give himself over to the highest bidder. The price will be astronomical.
It would be easy, then, to assume that Greinke's market will be limited to only a few clubs. The Dodgers, obviously, have the cash to re-sign him. The Yankees and Red Sox do too. You can never count out Angels owner Arte Moreno.
Still, more and more often, we are finding that baseball's biggest free agents are signing giant deals with clubs no one would have expected at the start of the offseason. Indeed, here are the ten highest paid free agents from the past five years:
|Albert Pujols||2012||Los Angeles Angels||10 years, $240 million|
|Robinson Cano||2014||Seattle Mariners||10 years, $240 million|
|Prince Fielder||2012||Detroit Tigers||9 years, $214 million|
|Max Scherzer||2015||Washington Nationals||7 years, $210 million|
|Masahiro Tanaka||2014||New York Yankees||7 years, $155 million|
|Jon Lester||2015||Chicago Cubs||6 years, $155 million|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||2014||New York Yankees||7 years, $153 million|
|Zack Greinke||2013||Los Angeles Dodgers||6 years*, $147 million|
|Carl Crawford||2011||Boston Red Sox||7 years, $142 million|
|Shin-Soo Choo||2014||Texas Rangers||7 years, $130 million|
*A provision allowed Greinke to opt out after three years..which, you know, is why I'm writing this.
As you can see, nine different clubs are represented there. Moreover, if we expand this list, looking at the 25 biggest active contracts, they cover 15 teams. So, yes, while baseball's biggest spenders (and, in particular the Dodgers) are more likely to get Greinke than any other individual team, you still have to like the field's chances to land him, especially as league revenues continue to grow.
With that in mind, here are five out of the box places where Greinke might land:
Tims Hudson and Lincecum are coming off the books for the Giants, and so is Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt, and Ryan Vogelsong. That's in excess of $46 million freed up, and that's even before we get to whatever share of Marlon Byrd, Mike Leake, and Alejandro De Aza's contracts they absorbed mid-season. Even giving Greinke $30 million per year, they would still presumably have $15-20 million available for upgrades elsewhere in the rotation and in the bullpen (to perhaps re-sign Leake). Greinke would be pretty fantastic in AT&T Park, and the Giants would doubly benefit by depriving their biggest rival of one of their biggest weapons. A rotation of Bumgarner, Greinke, Peavy, Leake, and Heston would be pretty damn intimidating.
Houston has shown that it is a team that is not afraid to make big moves, after trading for Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, and Scott Kazmir midseason. They are also a team on the rise, jumping 51 to 70 to 86 wins over the last three seasons. Signing Greinke would help guard against a potential slide backwards, and a top two of Dallas Keuchel and Greinke would be an amazing pairing. Plus, the tear-down the Astros did to jump start their farm system and this competitive cycle means that they still have a projected payroll of only $85-90 million next year. Their unexpected success in a large market should lead to a huge revenue increase for the club, more than covering the cost of one of baseball's best pitchers.
The Rangers are already to have their highest projected payroll on Opening Day of all time, so this may be stretching it. Still, their acquisition of Cole Hamels shows that this is a club interested in competing in 2016, and they struggled to find effective starters this year. With Yu Darvish probably coming back strong, Greinke would be a luxury on top of him and Hamels, but would make the Rangers World Series favorites heading into 2016.
The Diamondbacks were desperate for pitching this year, and finished ninth in the NL in ERA. The club unexpectedly won 79 games though, and had an even better run differential than that. More importantly, they have only $65-70 million in projected payroll for next year and plenty of room to add to it. They also already have a bevy of starters who could fill their rotation, but Greinke is the sort of pitcher for whom you push the Chase Andersons and Jeremy Hellicksons of the world to the curb. The prospect of Greinke heading up a rotation that includes Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa, and possibly either
Jarrod Parker Chase Anderson or Archie Bradley has would have to be pretty exciting out in the desert, and might be the thing to finally entice Arizonans to come out for games.
How serious is Mike Ilitch about not rebuilding and about winning that elusive World Series? Because there are few moves the Tigers could make that would signal their refusal to decline gracefully than going all out after Greinke. With a payroll currently slated to be around $140, the Tigers could meet Greinke's asking price without pushing their payroll above what it was this year, though that might keep them from upgrading their depth. Would it be enough to push them back in contention in a surprisingly robust AL Central? All of that depends on the health of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Victor Martinez, and Miguel Cabrera. Still, ordering new GM Al Avila to go after Greinke is definitely an Illich sort of move, and a rotation of Verlander, Greinke, Sanchez, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd might be enough.