Predicting the Value of Zack Greinke’s Deal

In case you dozed off and slept for 24 straight hours, David Price just signed the richest free-agent deal for a starting pitcher in baseball history. Seven years and $217 million will make Price a member of the Boston Red Sox. Over on the Left Coast, Zack Greinke is getting ready to make his own free-agent decision. The average annual value of $31 million for Price should have Mr. Donald Zachary Greinke feeling very good about the future of his own bank account.

There is absolutely no way that Greinke does not exceed the AAV of Price’s deal. He will not get seven years, but he could very well get six. The Los Angeles Dodgers absolutely must have Greinke back, but the San Francisco Giants need him too. Both clubs missed out on Price and Jordan Zimmermann. It’s very hard to believe either team will feel comfortable offering close to $150 million to Johnny Cueto, the last remaining ace on the market. There will be a bidding war for Greinke, and he would be wise to allow it to play out for a few more days.

Greinke will be 32 for the entirety of the 2016 season. A six-year deal will take him to age 37 by Opening Day of the 2021 season. That seems risky, but Greinke may not be a risk to suffer a severe regression as he passes age 35. He is best described as a “crafty righty” (yes, there is such a thing) and does not need to rely on outstanding velocity to blow hitters away. The right-hander gets by on his ability to change speeds, command the strike zone, and change the eye level of hitters by moving the ball in different planes. All of this allows him to suppress hard contact, and his .232 BABip in 2015, while slightly fluky, is indicative of his ability to prevent hitters from squaring up his offerings.

There’s another “crafty righty” who Greinke has been compared to — Greg Maddux. Maddux was the last pitcher to record an ERA lower than Greinke’s 1.66 this season. From age 32 to 37, Maddux went 105-55 with a 3.05 ERA and 27.1 WAR. The going rate for WAR is approximately $7-8 million for each win above replacement, so if Greinke can continue being a 4.0-5.0 WAR pitcher, a contract over $30 million will be reasonable. Mike Mussina was another right-hander who has a similar approach (the guy threw a knuckle-curve for crying out loud!) to pitching as Greinke, and he went 92-53 in his age-32 through age-37 seasons with 28.9 WAR.

If the performance of Maddux or Mussina is any indication, a pitcher with Greinke’s skills can be very effective into the tail end of his career. Greinke will not be hampered by the loss of two or three MPH on his fastballs. He is a great competitor who will continue finding ways to get better on the mound. For all of these reasons, the Dodgers and Giants should not view a six-year deal as a huge risk. If everything Greinke has already shown in his career is not enough, he is 32-6 in 51 career starts in Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park with a 1.98 ERA.

With Price getting $31 million per year, the Dodgers and Giants will both be forced to offer at least $32 million per year to entice Greinke. Both teams will of course realize that the other is going to be offering at least $32 million per year. That should drive the final AAV up to $33 million per year. The Dodgers do not have to quibble over an extra $2-3 million, and neither do the Dodgers. Six times 33 is 198. When all is said and done, and Greinke signs his next contract, it should surprise no one if the final cost to employ the All-Star for six seasons is $200 million. The Dodgers have the ability to throw the extra money at their number-two, and he will look quite good finishing out his career wearing blue and white in Chavez Ravine.

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