Zack Greinke Will Get Paid

Zack Greinke is putting himself in a great situation. Not only is the 28-year-old Milwaukee Brewers’ ace dominating hitters again, he’s doing it in a contract year. With the Brewers allegedly suspending contract talks with Greinke just last month, it looks like Greinke might take his chance on the free-agent market.

If Greinke were to hit free-agency, he and Cole Hamels would be the two most-sought-after starters. The Brewers have said they are willing to sign Greinke to a long-term extension — but based on recent pitcher deals — Greinke may price himself out of their budget.

Since breaking into the league in 2004, Greinke has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. During his career, Greinke has accumulated 32.7 WAR — which makes him the ninth-best pitcher during that period. But Greinke also carries a bit of a stigma: In his sophomore season, Greinke slumped badly and ended his season with a 5.80 ERA. During the spring of 2006, it was revealed that Greinke had been dealing with a social anxiety disorder and depression. He pitched just 6.1 innings that year.

Even with those struggles, Greinke’s overall performance has been impressive. Using our leaderboards, we can compare Greinke to similar pitchers during recent years. Greinke’s WAR total puts him in elite company. The chart only sorts pitchers through their age-28 seasons — since that’s when Greinke will hit the free-agent market. And because Greinke just entered his age-28 season, his WAR total should rise before he hits the market.

The top player on the list, CC Sabathia, is actually a pretty decent comparison for Greinke. Both players made their major league debuts at 20 years old, and both hit free-agency around the same age (Sabathia was 27, Greinke will be 28). That off-season, Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the New York Yankees. Greinke wasn’t as good as Sabathia during those early years, but he was comparable.

Greinke compares even more favorably to Johan Santana. Even though Santana wasn’t a full-time player until he was 23, both players have produced nearly the same amount of value through their age-28 seasons. If Greinke can muster a 5 WAR season this year, he’ll actually have produced more value than Santana by the time he hits the market. Santana — who reached free-agency was given an extension after being traded to the New York Mets right before his age-28 season — received a six-year, $137.5 million contract.

The two players immediately below Greinke — Justin Verlander and Roy Oswalt — signed extensions with their clubs and never reached free-agency. While their deals aren’t comparable to what Greinke will make, they give us a good idea of why players test the market. Even though all three pitchers put up comparable numbers, Verlander made $80 million while Oswalt made $73 million.

The last two interesting names on the list are Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Cain recently signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension with the San Francisco Giants. Many analysts think Greinke will use that deal as a benchmark during his negotiations. While Lincecum hasn’t signed a big extension yet, he’s rumored to have turned down a five-year, $100 million offer from the Giants.

Since Cain’s deal was an extension, it’s reasonable that Greinke would expect to make more on the open market. While we don’t know exactly what kind of deal Lincecum is seeking, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Greinke was after the same contract. The Sabathia and Santana contracts give us an idea of what similar pitchers made just four or five years ago. If we adjust for inflation, Greinke could justifiably ask for something between Sabathia’s and Santana’s contracts. Because of his past issues, teams might be hesitant to offer Greinke such an expensive contract. But based on his performance, he deserves to be paid like an elite starter.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Okra
Member
Okra
4 years 2 months ago

I’d put the over/under at 7yrs-150MM

cable fixer
Guest
cable fixer
4 years 2 months ago

terrific line…i’ll take the over in AAV but under in years.

Uh Oh Cordero
Guest
Uh Oh Cordero
4 years 2 months ago

Too bad he doesn’t like the spotlight and big market teams coz that’s where the monies are.

geo
Guest
geo
4 years 2 months ago

He has said multiple times that he would be fine with a big market team. The bigger question is whether the big market teams would be fine with him. For instance, when he asked to be traded from the Royals he met with Yankees officials, who came away from the meeting very leery of him being a fit in New York.

James Gentile
Member
4 years 2 months ago

This is in line with the same sort of nonsense that said Greinke would never make it as a big-leaguer. Guess what: he’s awesome and he’ll be awesome anywhere he goes.

Tim
Guest
Tim
4 years 2 months ago

I agree with your overall point, but when you’re giving someone a 6+ year contract worth upwards of 200m, it’s hard to blame a team for wanting the PERFECT player. Not that there is such a thing, I’m just saying I think it’s just as naive to dismiss his psychological history as it is to make blanket statements like, “he can’t play in a big market.”

jskelly4
Guest
jskelly4
4 years 2 months ago

Pretty sure Santana’s deal with the Mets was an extension…

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 2 months ago

As a Red Sox fan, it would be great to see him in Boston.

Max
Guest
Max
4 years 2 months ago

Anyone else think he’s not worth Sabathia money?

Jim
Guest
Jim
4 years 2 months ago

Santana signed that deal as an extension after the trade, he never reached free agency

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.
4 years 2 months ago

Santana had a no-trade clause, so he had plenty of leverage when dealing with the Mets. They basically had to work out an extension before he would OK the trade. It’s not precisely a free-agent contract, but he still got a free-market deal or something very close to it.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
4 years 2 months ago

I agree with Kevin to the point that the Red Sox could use a really good pitcher, but surely they’re the team that wouldn’t bid on him. They’ve been burned on long-term, big-money contracts to pitchers, and the risk in Greinke’s case will be too much for them to contemplate — especially as their business model seems about to fall apart.

NBarnes
Guest
NBarnes
4 years 2 months ago

Well, let’s be fair. They’ve been burned on Beckett and Lackey. Both of whom were obviously terrible ideas and known to be so at the time the contracts were signed; why is escaped Boston when everybody else knew it is a mystery. Greinke is not necessarily the same kind of bad idea (price tag dependent, of course).

Table
Guest
Table
4 years 2 months ago

please sign with the Dodgers!!!

Matt Pullman
Member
4 years 2 months ago

Greinke in Dodger Stadium with Kershaw would compete with Halladay & Lee as the best RHP/LHP combo in the league. I could definitely see the Dodgers bringing him in but only as a Plan B if they can’t get Hamels.

I have a feeling we’ll see the market wait for Hamels to make his decision then Greinke will sign a similar, but smaller, contract shortly thereafter. That is.. unless Greinke wins the NL Cy Young like I predicted him to do so preseason. In which case he may command $150MM.

Imagine any random rotations adding either Greinke or Hamels?

Quick aside: does the Harper beaning mean we can erase the Nationals from the list of Hamels suitors? They apparently have money and adding one of the aforementioned gentleman to a rotation with Strasburg, Gio, and Zimmermann, you’re looking at arguably the finest rotation in baseball.

Or what if Greinke hits 30 HR as a switch-hitting SP in the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati? I can see it.

Christian
Guest
Christian
4 years 2 months ago

In an upset, I peg him as staying in Milwaukee (not just because I want him to). Being comfortable is a very important consideration (issue?) for Greinke, and I can see the Brewers ponying up 5/115 for another ace (especially since they won’t have to pay K-Rod beyond this year).

Of course, if things go sour, we could just monitor Greinke’s slider% as the season draws to a close…

geo
Guest
geo
4 years 2 months ago

Comfort is important to Greinke, sure, but he’s made it clear that the playoffs are more important. He was very comfortable in KC too, but demanded a trade anyway, and made sure everybody knew why. It looks like the Brewers are headed south, and if he doesn’t feel that a concerted effort at improvement for 2013 and beyond is being made, he won’t stay.

Bob
Guest
Bob
4 years 2 months ago

Their record thus far this year is no different than it was last year. Claiming that the Brewers are headed south is a bit premature.

Dave I
Guest
Dave I
4 years 2 months ago

My guess was CC money for Greinke, but it is interesting to compare his career numbers (80-74 with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.251 WHIP) with Anibal Sanchez (41-39 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.347 WHIP). Or compare just their last 3 full seasons plus this year so far: Greinke 46-29 with a 3.30 ERA, 1.165 WHIP and 9.08 K/9; Sanchez 27-30 with a 3.53 ERA, a 1.319 WHIP and 8.25 K/9.

I had guessed Sanchez might get 5 years and $90mil. Given Greinke’s psychological issues in the past is he worth 2 years and $70mil more than Sanchez? Or am I underestimating Anibal?

hmk
Guest
hmk
4 years 2 months ago

you’re overestimating anibal. he could get some decent money, but he’s not even better than CJ wilson (90 mil). Anibal has never put up a season like grienke’s cy young year, or even grienkes up and down season last year (which was still fantastic from a FIP perspective and his K rates were phenomenal). Anibal is a good pitcher, but he walks a good amount of hitters and he isn’t nearly in grienke’s class.

rogue_actuary
Member
Member
rogue_actuary
4 years 2 months ago

You’re omitting a number of relevant comparisons.

1) IP: Greinke = 671, Sanchez = 524
2) BB/9: 2.16 to 3.29
3) ERA Environment for SPs:

AL in 2009 and 2010: 4.62, 4.26
NL from 2009 – 2012: 4.30, 4.05, 3.94, 3.69

(these basically track to the FIPs for each year)

Those two years in the AL at such high levels of performance are why Greinke is worth a lot more than Sanchez.

Since 2011, it might look like Sanchez has been better, but only by ERA. And that’s only because it looks like Greinke has been stung by some bad luck, as his xFIP is (… almost unbelievably) 2.49. Over that same period, Sanchez’s xFIP is still very good at 3.19, but …

Wow. I had no idea that Greinke’s xFIP from the start of 2011 through today is 2.49. That’s amazing.

JamesDaBear
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

I want the Cubs to trade Matt Garza now for whatever and then sign Zach Greinke. It’s time to put that Ricketts money to good use. If the Cubs are going to break the bank, I want it to be for Greinke, assuming they’d choose not to afford both long-term.

Polka
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

I think he’s worth every penny, but where does he go, or stay?
I’M betting he doesn’t leave the midwest, he won’t go East due to his disorder.
Love to see him traded to the Tigers beofre the deadline to help us out down the strecth, heck help us out right now!

neckrolls
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Greinke has stud peripherals, but I’ll bet he’s ultimately undervalued relative to what the SABR set would expect. Consider:

• The FA market seems to favor lefties. I guess because there are fewer of them. I think Hamels is going to wind up with the bigger contract by a wide margin.

• Not everybody reads Fangraphs. According to Baseball Reference, Greinke has only been worth 15.9 WAR since 2009. If he keeps up the excellent pace he’s on this year, his 2010-12 total will come in around 10. $20M is an overpay for 3.3 WAR/season. If you value innings and ERA in your Ace SPs, Greinke isn’t in the top 10 in either of those categories over the past 3+ seasons. The righties who are: Halladay, Verlander, King Felix, Weaver, Lincecum and Cain. They make $20M/year, give or take. Should Greinke get as much as they do?

• The days of 6+ year contracts for SPs are over. All Sabathia got for his opt-out was 5 years and an “as long as you’re healthy” vest. That’s how I interpret Cain’s contract, too: the final arb year plus the 5 year + vest contract they figured he’d be offered as a FA. I think Greinke can get the 5 year + vest deal, but at a lower AAV than Cain’s.

• Who’s going to be doing this bidding? When I look at the usual suspects’ available payroll and holes to fill for 2013, I don’t see a lot of room for a $20M/year pitcher. Especially with so many solid 2nd-tier options available for a much smaller commitment, and Hamels at the top of the market, I can easily see Greinke being the one left without a chair.

My guess is he gets 5 years, $100M, structured as $18.5M/year for 2013-17 and a $7.5M buyout of a vesting option of up to $20M. So if he’s healthy, he’d make $18.75M/year for 6 years. He deserves more, but I just haven’t seen any evidence that the FA market is as enlightened as the good people at Fangraphs.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
4 years 2 months ago

Dodgers break the bank and pick up Greinke and Hamels? They give the team a discount because they want to be on a special team?

I don’t know what I’d pay Greinke. I’d never want a pitcher for more than 5 guaranteed years. I don’t know if I’d ever give a pitcher a 20+ million dollar year past age 30.

It’ll be interesting since Greinke’s mainstream stats aren’t at all as impressive as his peripherals.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
4 years 2 months ago

I would love for Greinke to don Dodger Blue.

Keith
Guest
Keith
4 years 2 months ago

Thats the bad thing for small market teams like milwaukee it’s hard to compete when u can’t sign any of your good players. ( Other than Braun)

Royals in 2015
Guest
Royals in 2015
4 years 2 months ago

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Greinke include some unusual parts in his contract, mainly some sort of opt out after 3 years, not for more money, but to be able to leave if he gets stuck on a losing team.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals take a look at him again, they clearly need the SP help. He also never sold his residence in KC, for what it’s worth

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