Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel headline the starting pitching free agent class this offseason. And for teams looking for rotation upgrades, the two lefties would be suitable targets. With that said, if a team is looking for an ace, or top-of-the-rotation arm, trading for Zack Greinke is safer — and better — than signing Corbin or Keuchel.
The Arizona Diamondbacks seem poised to shop their premier players this offseason in an effort to strip down their roster, which includes Greinke and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. But, in all likelihood, Greinke is the player they’d prefer to trade. The All-Star righty has three years remaining on a six-year contract which pays him roughly $32 million a season. It’s a hefty contract that’s not going to be easy for the D-Backs to just begone with for a nice package. At the same time, absorbing Greinke’s contract could potentially be easier to fathom than it appears for other teams.
For starters, the D-Backs are likely more motivated to get Greinke’s money off the books, than get back a package of top prospects. So, if a team is looking for an instant rotation boost, it’s essentially just absorbing the right-hander’s contract. The other scenario is the D-Backs eat a portion of his contract and ask for a reasonable prospect of their choice in return. For the team that acquires Greinke, they wouldn’t have to be on the hook for all of the money he’s due and wouldn’t be trading away top-tier prospects. And when considering what Greinke brings to the table every fifth day, it’s a trade worth making.
Over the last two seasons, Greinke has posted ERAs of 3.20 and 3.21, WHIPs of 1.07 and 1.08, compiled 414 strikeouts, and made 30-plus starts a season; he’s a proven and reliable starting pitcher. He pitches deep into games, trusts his arsenal, and is the prototypical ace. Yes, at this stage of his career, Greinke is overpayed, and if he were a free agent this offseason, there would be little to no chance he cashes in on a contract worth in excess of $30 million a year. But he only has three years left on his contract.With Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin on the market, MLB teams will be falling over for the two lefties. However, @RPStratakos has a dissenting opinion: trading for Zack Greinke is smarter than signing one of them.Click To Tweet
Is Greinke a top five, or even top 10 starter in Major League Baseball anymore? No, but he can provide a team with a proven commodity at the top of their rotation and someone who can pitch in a big game. Can the same be said for Corbin and Keuchel?
Last season, Corbin was superb. He posted a career-best 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, recorded 246 strikeouts, and was an All-Star Game participant. His success will likely result in an extremely rich payday. But how certain can teams be that the Corbin of last year will show up again for the next four-to-five seasons?
Before 2018, Corbin endured a rollercoaster career. In 2012, he experienced some growing pains, but it was only his rookie season. The ensuing year, he posted an encouraging 3.41 ERA in 32 starts and showcased the ability to be a reliable starter every fifth day. Unfortunately, he missed the 2014 season with elbow discomfort and started just 16 games in 2015. In 2016, Corbin couldn’t keep his spot in the D-Backs rotation, coming out of the bullpen in 12 of his 36 appearances and posting a career-worst 5.15 ERA and 1.56 WHIP.
In 2017, Corbin started 32 games, but was underwhelming, posting a 4.03 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Corbin is now coming off the best season of his career. He limited the amount of runners he put on base and pitched to his capabilities. But a fear will exist as to whether Corbin is truly healthy and if his up and down career will continue to be such a ride in the coming years. For any team that signs him to be their ace, they run this risk.
In Keuchel’s case, it’s an issue of inconsistency. Last season, the lefty posted a 3.74 ERA, which, while not erratic, is discouraging for teams looking to make him their ace. He struggles to keep runners off base, is very inconsistent, surrendered a career-high 211 hits last season, and is hard to get a gauge on. Is the 2018 version of Keuchel the pitcher teams will be signing? Is he still the 2015 Cy Young Award winner, in terms of production and command? Is he the shaky 2016 lefty?
When he has his command and is at full force, Keuchel is an elite starting pitcher, and, at one point, was the Astros ace. But it’s difficult to say he can go elsewhere and be a team’s ace based on the inconsistency he’s exhibited over his career.
If Corbin or Keuchel go elsewhere on hefty four-to-five year deals and struggle, the talk of the town will be that those teams should’ve been more conscious of the doubts surrounding their arsenals. If Greinke struggles with a new team, it’ll also be viewed as if that team made an immense mistake. But it’s one that would only last three years, and even though Greinke is due $32 million in the final year of his contract, some team would likely be willing to take a flier on his services for the 2021 season. Plus, the team trading Greinke could eat some of the remaining money.
When you need an ace, what’s the best course of action: taking a risk on an inconsistent pitcher, or a proven commodity? It’s not a trick question. Whoever ends up signing Corbin and Keuchel will be getting two of the best lefties in the sport. But for those in search of a rotation anchor, trading for Greinke is the move to make, not signing a free agent starter.