Depending on whether or not you are willing to believe an unsubstantiated report, Zack Greinke will not be back with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016. That report, from Mark Saxon of ESPN, does not actually cite any insider sources or quote any member of the Los Angeles front office. There are a few reasons Greinke, who is viewed by most as very likely to re-sign with the Dodgers, will not be back according to Saxon. Both of them do not hold much weight. Greinke, 32 and coming off the best year of his career, is past the somewhat nebulous 33,000 career pitch rule instituted by team president Stan Kasten. Additionally, Greinke reportedly does not appreciate the behavior of mercurial star Yasiel Puig.
Let’s start with the first bit of the report. If Greinke is ruled out because the Dodgers do not want to sign a pitcher in his mid-30s to a four- or five-year deal, it’s highly unlikely that the Dodgers will find a similar deal for Jordan Zimmermann any more attractive. How about a seven-year pact with David Price? If Kasten wants to add another ace to pair with Clayton Kershaw, he’s going to have to break his rule. The Dodgers cannot go into the 2016 season without an elite number two. Greinke has performed beyond the Dodgers’ wildest dreams in his first three years in La-La Land, recording a 51-15 record with a 2.30 ERA. The right-hander has been even better pitching in Dodger Stadium, where fly balls go to die.
The Dodgers are most likely blowing smoke if they expect the baseball world to believe that they really want to cut costs at the expense of losing Greinke. His medical file comes with no red flags, and he has performed well in the playoffs. Greinke, not Price, is the safest investment on the free-agent pitching market. Unlike Price, Greinke is no longer a true power pitcher. He’s transformed himself into a master of the strike zone, and a master of changing speeds, keeping hitters off balance, and generating weak contact. It’s impossible to predict whether or not Price will be able to do that when his fastball is down to 93 in a few years.
That brings us to the Puig conundrum.
Greinke is hardly the only member of the Dodger clubhouse who has grown tired of Puig’s act. He’s late. He’s lackadaisical on the field at times, and was openly disrespectful to former manager Don Mattingly in front of teammates. Puig is quickly trending toward not being worth the hassle and dugout strife.
This is not just Greinke being Greinke. This is a guy who seriously considered giving up baseball to try professional golf when his anxiety disorder was at its peak. While Greinke is a bit of an odd duck, playing with Puig would just not be worth the headache to plenty of other players. Just up the road in San Francisco, the Giants have a clubhouse full of players who show up at the park everyday and do their job in a professional manner. That must look extremely attractive to Zack Greinke.
Is it Greinke or Puig for the Dodgers? There will certainly be a competitive offer coming from the Giants. How should the Dodgers handle this situation?
The easiest course of action would be to trade Puig. His numbers have been in decline since he burst on the scene as a rookie in 2013. Puig’s OPS+ has slid from 159, to 145, to 109. The outfielder was injured for most of the season in 2015, and when he was on the field, it was a struggle. Defensively, Puig has compiled 0.2 dWAR in 331 career games. He has all the tools in the world to be an elite defender, but still takes bad routes to balls, throws to the wrong bases, and airmails the cutoff man far too frequently.
A case could be made for keeping or trading Puig. He’s 24 years old and has about as much power potential packed into his 6’2″, 255-pound frame as anyone in the league, but for good reason, has been nicknamed Wild Horse. Puig embodies that nickname in every way. As the Dodgers transition to a new manager, there really should be some consideration given to dealing Puig for more prospects to keep loading up an elite farm system. With three more years of control, Puig remains extremely valuable. With a few more elite prospects, the Dodgers can pull a trade for another top starter or a bullpen arm like Aroldis Chapman. Most importantly, dealing Puig makes it far more likely that Zack Greinke will keep the Dodgers ahead of the rivals up the coast when contemplating his future.
This is a watershed moment for the Dodgers. Puig has the potential to blossom into a multiple-time All-Star, but is probably going to come with more headaches along the way. If anything, he may become more insufferable as his play improves. The Dodgers clubhouse needs leadership, not more infighting.
Zack Greinke may not be the safest investment, but he’s just as safe as Price and Zimmermann. In a perfect world, the light bulb goes on for Puig and he has a long sit down with Greinke, proving he’s ready to play the game of baseball like a mature adult (wouldn’t that be a fun conversation to sit in on!), but that’s not a reality. If Greinke makes an ultimatum, me or Puig, the Dodgers would be wise to stick with the starting pitcher.