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Former Brewers in Free Agency: Zack Greinke

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Don't let the haters dog you. Some things are more important than rebuilds. #BringBackZack

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Before the Brewers

Drafted by the Kansas City Royals with the 6th overall pick in the 2002 draft, Greinke had high expectations attached to him from day one. He rose quickly through the Royals’ system, finishing the season with High-A Wilmington in 2002, splitting time between there and AA-Wichita the following year, and then making his MLB debut in 2004 at the tender age of 20 after just six starts at AAA-Omaha. He scuffled a bit early on, which a 20-year-old at the major league level is wont to do, and was sent back down to Wichita in 2006 for further seasoning, resurfacing as a reliever in September. In 2007 he was yo-yo’d between the rotation and the bullpen, flashing what was to come on September 20 with an 8 inning, 10 strikeout performance, allowing just two hits. In 2009 he exploded, capturing the AL Cy Young with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts while single-handedly dragging Kansas City below the 100-loss line.

With the Brewers

Milwaukee acquired Greinke on December 10, 2010 for a package that included a pair of ALCS MVPs whom Brewers fans just had the absolute pleasure of watching win the World Series. Kyle spoke about the trade in hindsight a couple of weeks ago: Lorenzo Cain is very good but no one really predicted that, and Escobar is basically a walking rabbit’s foot in October but is otherwise a rather average option at shortstop. However, Kyle says that the 2011 run to the NLCS doesn’t happen without Greinke, which I’ll play devil’s advocate with. Here’s a quick blind player comparison:

Player A: 28 starts, 171.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, 3.9 WAR
Player B: 23 starts, 138,1 IP, 3.64 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 3.3 WAR

We’ll come back to that. Greinke’s tenure with the Brewers began rather inauspiciously. He injured himself playing pick-up basketball, causing him to miss the season’s first month, and then posted a miserable 5.63 ERA over 11 starts in May and June. Greinke was actually only the Brewers 3rd or 4th best pitcher during the regular season that year, and was even worse in the postseason: Milwaukee won two of his three starts in spite of rather than because of him. He surrendered 15 runs (12 earned) on 23 hits over 16.2 innings. He wasn’t Shaun Marcum bad, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Greinke’s final numbers for 2011 can be found under Player A above. Player B is Marco Estrada, the very next year.

Greinke rebounded in 2012 while the Brewers tanked around him, recording a 3.44 ERA over 21 starts. On July 13, he became the first pitcher to ever start three games in a row for a team when he was ejected after four pitchers in one of the great #UmpShows of our time, started again the next day -- the team’s final game before the All Star break -- then kicked off the second half for Milwaukee on regular rest. It was the be his penultimate start for the floundering Brewers, who traded him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for a trio of prospects: Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, and Ariel Pena.

After the Brewers

Unfortunately for Los Angeles/B, Greinke wasn’t the final piece to the playoff puzzle, as the Angels fell well short of the Orioles and Rangers in the Wild Card race – in fact, they were only one game closer to the playoffs than Milwaukee finished that season. Even more unfortunately, after watching the young shortstop they traded away set the world on fire in Milwaukee, the Halos watched Greinke sign a monster 6 year, $147 million contract with the crosstown Dodgers.

Los Angeles/A did what the Angels could not, returning Greinke to the playoffs where his magnificent hair and interpersonal skills belong in each of the following three years. Greinke has been sensational for the Dodgers: a 2.30 ERA and a 51-15 record in 92 starts, racking up a 13.7 fWAR over those three seasons.

Free Agency Outlook

Greinke is the best free agent pitcher on the market, in my completely unbiased and authoritative opinion. Coming off arguably the best year of his career in which Greinke threw 222.2 innings with a 1.66 ERA, Greinke opted out of the final three years of his contract to cash in at the peak of his value. The frontrunner for Greinke’s services right now is probably Los Angeles, since he’s already there and Magic Johnson isn’t likely to be too keen on losing half of his 1-2 ace punch. The Dodgers are throwing money around like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, dropping $100 million contracts like you or I might drop Hamiltons at Woodman’s for a value-size tub of cheese puffs. If they want him, that’s where he’s going to go – Greinke has never been shy about admitting that he’s going where the money takes him. At 32, this is probably going to be Greinke’s last huge payday, so he’ll be looking for as many years and as much guaranteed money as possible. He won’t match Max Scherzer’s monster deal last year (7 years, $210 million), nor will he get the off-season’s largest deal for a pitcher -- that’ll be David Price, nearly two years Greinke’s junior. That said, I’ll say that he resigns with the Dodgers for five years and $155 million.