Snakes, Sharks and the Wild NL West

Greinke will sign with the Dodgers, they said.

Greinke will sign with the Giants, they said.

Greinke will sign with the Dodgers or Giants, they said.

Pfft.

Chalk another one up for the all-powerful mystery team. Zack Greinke agreed to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday night, coming to terms on a deal that will pay him $206.5M over six years. Pending a physical, the contract would make him the highest-paid player in MLB history in terms of average annual value (AAV) at more than $34M per year. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has reported that $60M or more of the contract is deferred money, which makes the deal to something closer to $190M in terms of present-day value. Regardless, Zack Greinke just came into a whole lot of dough, and the Diamondbacks set off a seismic shift of the NL West landscape. Let’s examine how the mega-deal affects each of Greinke’s west coast suitors, starting with his now-former team.

 

The Dodgers

The Dodgers reportedly offered Greinke something in the 5-year, $155M range. That means they were approximately $50M off the mark, a pretty astounding figure for a team that runs the highest payroll in baseball and has seemingly endless resources. Even more astounding is that they were lapped by a small-budget Arizona team that has run a payroll over $100M just once in the past decade.

Greinke paired with Clayton Kershaw to give the Dodgers the most powerful 1-2 starting pitching tandem in baseball over the past three seasons. Minus Greinke, the Dodgers current starting rotation projects as follows:

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP
2. Brett Anderson, LHP
3. Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP
4. Alex Wood, LHP
5. Mike Bolsinger, RHP

That rotation could be really good! We know Kershaw is a pitching demigod, but Anderson, Ryu and Wood all have a lot of talent as well. Ryu was excellent in his first two seasons in the majors, posting 3.17 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 344 innings, with a 293 strikeouts against 78 walks. Anderson is still only 28 years old and coming off the most durable season of his career. Wood is even younger, at 25, and only a year removed from a 2.78 ERA and striking out almost a batter per inning. Even Bolsinger came out of nowhere last year to throw 109 quality innings as an injury fill-in. The Dodgers also plan to get Brandon McCarthy back at some point midseason after he underwent Tommy John surgery last April. So we’re not talking about Kershaw and a stack of old newspapers here. Still, it’s hard to look at that rotation and not see something more like:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Question Mark
3. Huge Question Mark
4. Another Question Mark
5. I’d really rather not

Upside or not, this isn’t anything close to a reliable rotation. Anderson threw 180 innings in 2015 but that was the first time he topped even 113 innings since his rookie season in 2009. Wood regressed pretty heavily last year, is already a Tommy John-survivor and has the kind of wacky mechanics that lead scouts like Keith Law to believe he’s destined for the bullpen. Ryu, meanwhile, missed the entire 2015 season with a torn shoulder labrum, and battling back from a shoulder injury is like trying to counter Bald Bull’s bull-charge in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Yeah, technically it can be done, but let’s face it: odds are, you’re gonna panic, hit the button too early and get uppercut into oblivion.

The Dodgers still have plenty of money to spend, but with Greinke and David Price gone, there isn’t a pitcher left that you’d really feel comfortable spending it on. Johnny Cueto is the next-best pitcher on the market, and he just came off a second-half where he posted a 4.34 ERA, saw his K% drop by eight percent and had inflammation in his elbow. He might return to form, but his price tag is likely to be at least $150M. If the Dodgers weren’t willing to go higher than that for Greinke, it would seem odd that they choose to do so for Cueto.

The Dodgers’ front office certainly understands the concept of efficiency. President Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi come from Tampa Bay and Oakland organizations that were forced to make cold, rational decisions. Those teams couldn’t afford to take unnecessary risks because the slightest miscalculation would set them back years. From that standpoint, it makes sense that they’d balk at giving Greinke a sixth year. But those constraints shouldn’t exist in Los Angeles. The Dodgers don’t need to be efficient. They’re one of only a handful of teams that can afford sign a 32-year-old pitcher to the richest AAV in baseball history, because if it backfires then hey, they still have 18 more vaults of money buried beneath the Hollywood Hills. 

All of that said, the Dodgers offseason has really only just begun. They now have upwards of $150M freed up that had been previously earmarked for Greinke. They can throw that money at Cueto, or Jason Heyward, or any combination of players. They can snag Shelby Miller or Aroldis Chapman in a trade. They can flip Julio Urias and change to Miami to get Jose Fernandez. Or they can do something even crazier. Friedman and Zaidi are both incredibly smart, creative guys, and they wield an invincible checkbook. Don’t underestimate their power.

For now though, Dodger fans are right to be upset. Aside from Kershaw, Greinke was the player the Dodgers could least-afford to lose. That they let money, of all things, get in the way of that is a tough pill to swallow.

 

The Giants

The first domino has already fallen for the Giants since the Greinke decision, as they agreed to sign Jeff Samardzija to a 5-year, $90M deal on Saturday. It always seemed more their-style to sign a couple of the mid-tier free agents rather than go bananas for Greinke or Price. With Samardzija now in tow, they’re poised to do exactly that. 

1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
2. Jeff Samardzija, RHP
3. Jake Peavy, RHP
4. Matt Cain, RHP
5. Chris Heston, RHP

Samardzija’s bWAR totals since he became a full-time starter in 2012 are as follows: 1.8, 1.0, 3.7 and 0.2. That just earned him $90 million dollars on the free market, as a 31-year-old. That sound you just heard is of ten thousand fathers taking their nine-year olds outside to work on their pitching mechanics. Baseball gets you paid, folks.

Samardzija’s numbers look a little better by fielding-independent metrics (fWAR totals of 2.7, 2.7, 4.1, 2.7), but suffice to say that the Giants are taking on a reasonable amount of risk here. Nevertheless, we saw how good Shark could be in 2014, and moving to the spacious AT&T Park and pitching in front of an excellent defensive unit should help significantly in getting him back to that level of performance.

The Giants are reportedly still interested in adding another starter — Mike Leake and Hisashi Iwakuma are the two names that have been tossed around most often– but they have a hole in left field, as well. Luckily for them, there is no shortage of qualified candidates to fill it. As I wrote last month, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes would all make a ton of sense for San Francisco, and losing out on the top-tier pitchers may have given them the financial flexibility to land one of them.

Regardless of how the rest of the offseason shakes out, the Giants can rest assured that they won’t have to face off with Greinke in Chavez Ravine any longer. The drawback, of course, is that while they’ve presumably gained some ground on their arch-rivals, they’ve lost some on the Snakes.

 

The Diamondbacks

Everyone knew that Arizona would be in the market for pitching help this offseason, but no one knew just how high they had their sights set. After striking out on a 6-year, $120M offer to Cueto just a few days earlier, the DBacks looked like they’d refocus their attention on the mid-tier pitching options. Instead, they shocked the world.

Greinke’s move to the desert changes the dynamic of the NL West pretty drastically. He’s likely a 4-5 win upgrade for Arizona, and he subtracts those wins from the team that has won the division three years running. For an Arizona club that won 79 games in 2015, Greinke likely moves them into the wild card discussion all by himself. He’s also one of the best possible solutions for the Diamondbacks’ biggest problem.

Arizona’s offense finished fourth in the National League in runs scored in 2015, led by a pair of young superstars in Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. It was their pitching that did them in, particularly the performance of their starting rotation, where everyone was either average or decidedly below. 

Diamondback starters finished the season in the bottom-five of the NL in ERA, FIP and home runs allowed. The bad news for Arizona is that Greinke can only pitch in one of the five rotation spots, and the other four will be occupied by the familiar faces. The good news is that all of those faces are on the right side of 30, and it’s not unreasonable to project some growth in 2016. That’s especially true for someone like Patrick Corbin, who posted a nearly 3-win season in 2013 as a 23-year-old before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014.

1. Zack Greinke, RHP
2. Patrick Corbin, LHP
3. Rubby De La Rosa, RHP
4. Robbie Ray, LHP
5. Chase Anderson, RHP

Regardless, the Diamondbacks made a gigantic leap forward by acquiring Greinke, and they shouldn’t stop there. Reports indicate that Arizona is still interested in adding another arm, like Leake or Japanese-import Kenta Maeda. The Snakes would do well to add either of those two, or make a move on any of the other mid-rotation arms still available (Iwakuma, Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo).

Arizona turned the NL West into a three-team race by stealing Greinke. If they want to keep it that way, they should keep their foot on the gas. The Giants’ offseason isn’t over, and the Dodgers’ probably hasn’t even begun. Factor in the Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Nationals and Mets, and the NL is looking to be another dog fight in 2016. There are plenty of potential 2-3 win upgrades on the free agent market that are ripe for the picking. Scooping one or two of them up could be the difference between a just-miss season and a run at their second World Series title.

2 Responses

  1. Matty

    Dbacks can certainly compete if they can add a 3/4 type pitcher and maybe a back end bullen arm. My main worry is losing Pollock via trade, which would be a terrible mistake. Having him and Goldy as young, controlled pieces leading the offense and defense needs to stay in tact. Open up the wallet one more time for a Leake or Iwakuma and the D’Backs will complete!

    Like

    1. I’m with you 100%, Matt. I think trading Pollock would be a big mistake, especially if it’s for someone like Shelby Miller. Another mid-rotation guy puts them in position to make a run this year…at least for a wild card spot, but even the division if things break right. Hope all is well, man. Have a good holiday and say hi to the family for me!

      Like

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