By Ross Newhan
The Dodgers' stated priority of retaining Zach Greinke ultimately yielded to a financial decision that undoubtedly makes sense in the long-term but may prove difficult to justify in the shorter-term of the next few seasons, particularly the immediacy of 2016 considering the current rotation consists of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and the ghost of Greinke, who stunned the Dodgers and their friends up North by agreeing to a six year, $206.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a West Division outlier presided over by former L,A. executive Derrick Hall.
Amid an industry awash in revenue (probably eclipsing $10 billion when the 2015 accounting is finished) and clearly demanding to be the top-ranked pitcher in terms of his contract's average annual value, Greinke took the AAV Crown away from David Price, who held it for about a week after signing a seven year, $217 million contract with the Red Sox.
The Diamondbacks, who have not had a payroll of more than $100 million since 2002 but will be starting a billion dollar television deal in 2016, were willing to give Greinke a sixth year that neither the Dodgers (who were offering about $160 million for five) nor his other hottest courtier, the Giants, were. This enabled Greinke to emerge with an AAV of $34.3 million or about $3 million more than Price, and while it is easy to label these rankings as Greed Personified, is it really greed when the clubs (or at least some) can't wait to participate?
Greinke had signed a six year, $147 million free agent contract with the Dodgers three years ago, setting a record for a right handed pitcher. He exercised an opt out clause to become a free agent again, knowing in the aftermath of an incomparable season that he would easily compensate for the $71 million he was yielding over the final three years of that contract. He got the $71 million, and $135.5 million more, plus lower taxes in Arizona, where the D-Backs are clearly going for it, hoping to take advantage of young players of the stature of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, an offense that ranked second in the National League in runs last year and that TV deal, which is expected to let them go back into the market to sign or trade for one more starting pitcher.
How Greinke, at 32, will respond to being the No. 1, the ace, of his staff while pitching home games in a shooting gallery compared to Dodger Stadium remains to be seen. His new employers, certain they have a budding contender, are only hoping to take advantage of his addition over the next three or four years and not that concerned about his performance at 37 and 38 in the final years of the deal.
The Dodgers know what they are losing. Greinke pitched six innings or more in all 32 of his starts last season, was 19-3 overall, had the major leagues' lowest earned-run average in the last 20 years and was 51-15 in his three years with the team.
Indeed, a front office featuring executives schooled in the low payroll environment of Tampa and Oakland may have a difficult time explaining the decision to end negotiations at that sixth year considering Greinke's performance, the rotation's obvious depth issues without him, the ownership riches seemingly available to them (in addition to the $8.35 billion TV contract and their major league leading attendance) and the World Series or bust (which it has been for 28 years) environment of big market L.A. Fans, and others, could argue that a sixth year wouldn't have broken the bank.
However, the Dodgers oft-stated goal has been a sustainable product, the $300 million payroll only a short-term by-product of the situation that the current ownership inherited.
In committing $200 million or so to Greinke the Dodgers would have been tying up $60 million a year in two pitchers over an extended period, limiting how they addressed other roster decisions.
A difficult but seemingly justifiable call complicated by a shredded rotation at a time when the market has narrowed and the Dodgers are not the only team in it.
Three of the top four free agent pitchers are gone--Greinke, Price and Jordan Zimmerman, who agreed to a five year, $110 million deal with Detroit. Johnny Cueto, the fourth, remains, but he, too, is seeking five or six years while saddled with physical questions. There is still a secondary array of free agents--Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Hisashi Iwakuma and Scott Kazmir, among them--and possible trade targets such as Shelby Miller and Carlos Carrasco, but the Giants, spurned by Greinke, are equally hungry, and the suddenly attractive D-Backs remain in pitching pursuit, among others.
Can the Dodgers count on Hyun-Jim Ryu returning as good as new from shoulder surgery or Brandon McCarthy coming back from elbow surgery in mid-season or the touted and trade protected Julio Urias or Jose deLeon coming up at some point?
One thing is certain: Money is cheap throughout baseball, and Greinke's record probably won't stand long.
In fact, on a distant horizon, lurks a former teammate named Kershaw, who can opt out after 2018. Anyone for an AAV of $40 million?