Can the Cardinals swoop in for Greinke?

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Free agent ace Zack Greinke is said to be deciding between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants when it comes to his big decision. Chicago Cubs fans are hopeful their team will somehow get in the running and convince the 32-year-old to come to the Windy City. The Cubs are a definite long shot when it comes to landing Greinke. There is another team in the NL Central, however, who should be viewed as a threat to swoop in at the last second and snag the right-hander.

Do not be surprised if the St. Louis Cardinals emerge as a last-second contender to sign Zack Greinke.

The Cardinals were the second-place finishers in the bidding war for David Price. The Boston Red Sox blew out the Red Birds by between $30 and $40 million. Realistically speaking, if the Cardinals offered Price $185 million dollars, they should have known they were not actually going to have a chance at the end of the day. The actual terms the Cardinals offered Price have not leaked out, and probably will not, but the club likely offered him $26 or $27 million per year. Although their offer ultimately came up short, the Cardinals were serious about signing Price, and for good reason.

Adam Wainwright, the team’s current ace, has not exactly been the picture of durability for his career. In 2008, the 6’7″ right-hander made only 20 starts after dealing with a strained middle finger. Tommy John surgery kept him out for the entire 2011 season. Wainwright appeared in only seven games in 2015, after suffering a serious Achilles tendon injury while running the bases. He was expected to miss the entire year, but was able to get back on the mound and pitch out of the bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs. In three of Wainwright’s 10 MLB seasons, he has missed significant time due to injury. Who knows how much more his big body can take. It is very difficult to predict exactly how well connective tissue, especially in the lower half, will fare for a pitcher as tall as Wainwright, who will turn 35 in August.

The Cardinals pursuit of Price showed that they are seriously pondering the future of their rotation. Wainwright may only have two or three more years of elite pitching. Michael Wacha struggled to complete a full big-league season in 2014, but did bounce back nicely in 2015. Lance Lynn is already out for next year, Jaime Garcia is a nice four or five, and John Lackey may go elsewhere, especially if the Cardinals are unwilling to offer him three years. Carlos Martinez has ace potential, but his shoulder kept him out of the postseason. There is a lot of uncertainty going forward in the St. Louis rotation.

This offseason definitely looks like the year the Cardinals are forced to make a big-ticket purchase in the free-agent market. They already missed out on Price, but no one was going to be able to top the Red Sox. Boston was just too desperate to land him. The Cardinals do not have the same level of need for an ace, but it’s close. The Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates have built teams that equal the Cardinals. Chicago has the best pitcher in the division and the better young lineup. The 2016 season could finally be the one where the Pirates ‘out-Cardinal’ the Cardinals with their blend of small ball, solid starting pitching, and a lockdown bullpen. Whether it’s on Jason Heyward or a pitcher like Greinke, the Cardinals have to make a splash this winter.

As for Greinke, would he actually consider St. Louis over his California suitors? One of the reasons Greinke is believed to be considering the Giants over the Dodgers is his love of their clubhouse culture. In baseball, who else has a better culture than the Cardinals? No one. Being caught by Buster Posey should be attractive to Greinke, but the Cardinals have Yadier Molina. Molina may be Posey’s equal overall when his defensive prowess is factored in. Greinke and Molina working together could be a lethal combination of minds when it comes to pitch calling and attacking hitters. Greinke also spent the first seven seasons of his career pitching for the Kansas City Royals. With his social anxiety disorder, a slightly less-frenzied environment in Missouri may be attractive. Greinke is also a student of the game, and loves the history of baseball. There are not many other franchises with a more historic past than St. Louis.

Assuming the Cardinals were willing to offer David Price $185 million, they may have a shot at Greinke. The dollars would be about the same, but over six years instead of seven. The Cardinals would approach $200 million for Price, but may be willing to do so for Greinke. A six-year deal for $210 has been floated around, which will be too rich for the Cardinals. Only the Dodgers can throw $35 million per year at Greinke, but he does not seem like the type of player who will decide his next team based solely on the dollar amount of the deal. If the Cardinals make a serious offer to Greinke — in the $31 to $32 million per year range — they may be able to swoop in and pluck him away from the Giants and Dodgers. Getting Greinke would represent a break from the way the Cardinals have done business in the past, but that may be required to stay ahead of the Cubs and Pirates. If one team emerges out of the blue to steal Zack Greinke, it will be the St. Louis Cardinals.

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