Less than 48 hours after his team was eliminated from the National League Divisional Series, Zack Greinke opted out of the remainder of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Greinke, who was out-dueled by New York's Jacob deGrom in Game 5 on Thursday, had three years and $71 million remaining on his current deal.
This was a move that everyone saw coming, especially after Greinke's stellar 2015 season. The soon-to-be 32-year-old righthander held opponents to an NL-best 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 222 2/3 innings this year. He struck out 200 batters and walked only 40, resulting in a 2.76 FIP that ranked sixth among qualified MLB pitchers. Greinke earned his third career All-Star nod, and is a near-lock to finish in the top three of the NL Cy Young voting.
Now a free agent, Greinke joins David Price as one of the top free agent starting pitchers on the market, capable of pulling in $150 million or more over the life of his next contract.
Who is he?
Greinke has pitched for four different MLB clubs in his 12-year career, but Tigers fans will remember him as the promising young righthander who struggled to find his footing with the Kansas City Royals from 2004 to 2007. He dealt with a social anxiety disorder early in his career, but put things together in 2008, when he allowed a 3.47 ERA in 202 1/3 innings with the Royals. The next season was his coming out party, as Greinke held opponents to a 2.16 ERA with 242 strikeouts in 229 1/3 innings, winning the AL Cy Young Award.
After a relatively subpar 2010 season, Greinke was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal that brought current cornerstones Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar to Kansas City. Greinke went 25-9 with a 3.67 ERA through a season and a half with the Brewers before he was traded to the Angels for an ill-fated stretch run in 2012. Greinke signed with the Dodgers prior to the 2013 season, and has since enjoyed three of the best seasons of his career. In 92 starts with the Dodgers, Greinke is 51-15 with 2.30 ERA and 2.97 FIP.
Why should we care?
Greinke's evolution from promising prospect to rising star to dominant force usually doesn't take this long, but he should enjoy a relatively lengthy stay atop the heap as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He is one of the most cerebral pitchers in the game, relying heavily on statistics and video analysis to formulate his gameplan against opposing lineups. Greinke, even going so far as to position defenders to his liking during games. Greinke's analytical approach was even detailed by the Wall Street Journal.
But the routine changes when Zack Greinke pitches. Before a single instruction is conveyed to the Dodgers infield, Greinke meets with Wallach himself. He arrives having already studied charts illustrating the paths of each hitter’s batted balls. Then, after considering how his pitching plan against each hitter might affect their tendencies, he essentially decides where his teammates will stand himself.
Some have attributed Greinke's .229 BABIP to this approach -- the Dodgers shifted more often with Greinke on the mound than any other pitcher -- but his .309 BABIP in 2014 shows that he can get hitters out no matter how the ball bounces. He has 1562 strikeouts in 1638 1/3 innings since 2008, and has maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.0 or better in four of his last seven seasons. A rising ground ball rate -- he has been at 48 percent or higher in three of the past four seasons -- indicates that he has the wherewithal to evolve as his velocity naturally declines with age.
Why should we stay away?
It's not often that you see a player leave $71 million on the table, but Greinke is in prime position to break someone's bank this offseason. He is coming off a near-six win season in 2015, and is one of four pitchers to put up 40 WAR since 2008. The other three -- Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez -- have all signed contracts worth $175 million or more, and it's hard to see Greinke not entering the fray this winter. With the Dodgers on the prowl for at least one bonafide ace, expect him to get one of the more expensive contracts of the offseason.
Will he end up in Detroit?
This year's free agent market is stuffed to the brim with starting pitching in a way we haven't seen in a long time. The market has stagnated in recent years as agents have tried to wait out owners looking to save a few bucks, but the plethora of arms available could lead to more early Hot Stove action. Greinke himself is a wild card, particularly with the richer-than-God Dodgers in the hunt. Los Angeles is likely negotiating with him already, and it would not be surprising to see him re-up before free agency even begins.