March 12, 2013 by Matt Musico
Everybody associated with the Los Angeles Dodgers collectively held their breath yesterday, as Zack Greinke was scratched from his Spring Training start against the Milwaukee Brewers. The right-hander was experiencing some inflammation behind his right elbow, and he’ll rest two or three days after receiving an injection of platelet-rich plasma and anti-inflammatories before starting a progressive throwing program. This injury doesn’t seem serious, but the question I want to ask is, will the contract Greinke signed with LA end up being worth it?
He’s a very good pitcher; he won the 2009 Cy Young Award with the Kansas City Royals, and has won double-digit games five years in a row. There’s no question that Greinke is a front-end starter and a productive member of any rotation. However, when I heard that both the Dodgers and Texas Rangers were in a bidding war for his services, which ended up with him earning a contact of almost $160 million (including incentives), it made my stomach turn.
If the last calendar year has been any indication, the Dodgers are willing to spend money to put an All-Star caliber player at every position; even though they had a full rotation, Greinke was the best pitcher out there, and they wanted him badly. Before Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners agreed to a monster deal worth $175 million, Greinke was the highest-paid right-handed pitcher in MLB history, with regard to overall value and average annual value. He got that distinction, but isn’t even the ace of his new team’s pitching staff…that title goes to Clayton Kershaw.
Again, I’m not saying that Greinke wouldn’t be a valuable member of any team’s rotation, but the Dodgers grossly overpaid for his services, and this contract will not be worth the investment. When a team is willing to pay this much for any player, they need to evaluate whether or not they’ll be able to get a worthy return on their investment. Greinke’s Cy Young year in ’09 was impressive (16-8, 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP in 229.1 IP) for a not-so-good Royals club, but he hasn’t come close to putting together a solid all-around season like that since. His best season since then came in 2012, as he went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Is that worth $160 million? I don’t think so.
In Greinke’s nine-year MLB career, he’s put together a 91-77 record, 3.77 ERA, and 1.25 WHIP. Let’s compare those career stats with other elite pitchers in the league that are also making top dollar from their respective teams. The hurlers I’m thinking of include King Felix, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander.
Felix Hernandez: 98-76, 3.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
When you see his career stats, you may think to yourself, “Why did the Mariners throw so much money at King Felix?” He is by far the ace of their staff, and has been the only good part of the Mariners for quite some time now. Seattle wants him to be the centerpiece of their next competitive squad, and that’s why they invested $175 million in him over the next seven years.
CC Sabathia: 191-102, 3.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
This is one of the few times when a long-term contract for a pitcher is worth every penny. Sabathia has undoubtedly been the leader of the Yankees pitching staff, and has been a horse for manager Joe Girardi down the stretch and in the playoffs every year. Whenever there is a must-win game for New York, CC is on the mound. And most of the time, they win. So, the $119 million he’s due over the next five years is worth it.
Justin Verlander: 124-65, 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Again, there is no doubt who the ace of the Detroit Tigers is. Verlander has been at the top of that rotation for some time, and has shown his worth in the Motor City, winning the AL Cy Young and MVP award in 2011, followed by placing second in the Cy Young voting in 2012. He’s coming at quite the discount, as Detroit has him locked up through the 2014 season, part of a five-year/$79.5 million extension he signed prior to 2010.
The explanations for these three pitchers aren’t long enough to truly state their entire case, but I think you get the idea. These guys are at the top of the food chain when it comes to earnings (whether it be per year or over the life of an entire contract) because there is no question they’re the ace of their respective staffs. As for Greinke, he’s getting paid ace money to be second-in-line behind Clayton Kershaw (as he should be).
Although King Felix hasn’t had the opportunity yet, Sabathia and Verlander have both proven they can be relied upon in the postseason, which continues to justify the top dollar they’re getting paid. Greinke has started three playoff games in his career, going 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA, and 1.62 WHIP.
As last season came to a close, I thought Greinke would have been commanding the kind of deal C.J. Wilson received from the Angels (five-years/$77.5 million). Why? Because that’s all I felt he was worth. However, the Dodgers thought otherwise and wanted to break the bank on him. We’ll see how he performs over the life of his contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be a disappointment; not because he doesn’t pitch well, but because that price tag comes with ace-like expectations, and that’s exactly what Greinke is not.
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