I will admit that I haven’t, at any point this winter, thought about the Diamondbacks trading Zack Greinke. They just won 93 games and reached the NLDS. They have Paul Goldschmidt under team control for two more years, but A.J. Pollock and Pat Corbin for just one. Their window to win with this group is not going to be open very long, but they haven’t made any real noise about rebuilding, at least not publicly. And if they’re going to try to win again in 2018, they probably need Zack Greinke to do it.
Right now, we have the Diamondbacks projected for 84 wins, putting them two wins behind St. Louis for the top Wild Card spot in the NL. The Cardinals are clearly looking to upgrade their roster, and are probably close to landing Marcell Ozuna from Miami, if I’m any good at reading tea leaves. There is a bit of a gap between AZ and the fringe NL contenders, so the Diamondbacks could get worse and still think they’re as good as Colorado or San Francisco, but reducing their chances of making the playoffs would be a weird strategy in Pollock’s walk year.
Of course, if they don’t move Greinke, they have no shot of re-signing Pollock, so perhaps if they thought they could free up enough money to keep Pollock in Arizona past this year, moving a good chunk of Greinke’s contract could make sense. So, yeah, if someone wants to take most of the deal, and you think you can use it to keep the rest of the core together longer, maybe that’s worth thinking about.
But there’s this rumor kicking around that has the Rangers and Diamondbacks talking about a Greinke trade that just doesn’t make much sense to me.
Confirming @Sullivan_Ranger report on #Rangers' interest in Zack Greinke. The Rangers would need the deal with Arizona to include Shin-Soo Choo and the $63 million he's owed the next three seasons to offset the $138.5 million owed to Greinke the next four.
— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) December 13, 2017
Obviously, this is just one tweet, and the specifics are almost certainly more complex than just a straight Choo for Greinke contract swap. But if that’s what Texas wants Arizona to do, Mike Hazen should do a call block on calls from the Arlington area code.
Greinke has $138M left on his deal, but $40 million of that is deferred for another five years, reducing the present value of that commitment. MLB valued Greinke’s $206M deal at $195M, after factoring in the deferrals, so the $138M left works out to about $131M if the money was paid out normally. There’s also a $2 million bonus if he’s traded, so let’s call it 4/$133M.
4/$133M for Greinke is no bargain, but it’s also not some massively underwater contract. If he was a free agent this winter, coming off a +5 WAR season at age-33, I can’t imagine him getting much less than Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is two years younger but is coming off a much worse season, and his trend since the second half of 2016 has not been encouraging. Yet, because of the name recognition and the lack of available impact pitching, I projected Arrieta would get 4/$96M, while you guys guessed 5/$110M. The rumored asking price for Arrieta is north of $200M, for whatever that’s worth.
We can probably quibble over exactly what Greinke is worth going forward, but I’d put it around that $110 million mark that you guys had Arrieta pegged for. The aging curve gets steep for pitchers around now, but he’s already adjusted to pitching with diminished stuff, and he’s the kind of guy that can probably keep getting outs while the velocity erodes.
So, maybe Greinke costs about $20 million more than a rational market value for him about now. Could be $10 million, could be $30 million, but I think it’s somewhere in there.
Shin-Soo Choo? He has 3/$63M left on his deal. He put up +0.8 WAR last year. +0.5 the year before that. Steamer projects him for about +1 WAR in 2018, if he’s given everyday playing time as a DH. He’s bad enough defensively that playing him in the field almost certainly makes that go down, so in Arizona, he’s basically unplayable. He’s not really any better than Yasmany Tomas, who they already have.
Choo is a 35-year-old league-average hitter who can’t play the field. His closest free agent analog is probably Curtis Granderson, except Granderson has been worth +2 WAR in each of the last two years, and can actually still defend a position competently. The crowd estimated Granderson would sign for 1/$10M. I agree that Granderson will have to settle for one year, but I’ll guess it’s more like $5 or $6 million.
In other words, almost every dollar still owed to Choo is negative value at this point. He’s at least $50 million in the red, and probably more. Taking Choo to offset Greinke would be like getting a payday loan to pay your friend back for covering the tip at dinner. The Diamondbacks would clear $70 million in salary if they swapped the two contracts straight up, but they’d drop something like four wins off their projected 2018 total, and you can’t buy a four-win player in free agency for $70 million.
The Diamondbacks, of course, know this too. And it’s very likely that the actual conversation — if the rumors are right and it occurred — involved the D’Backs saying they’d take part of Choo’s contract to offset Greinke’s deal, but probably not the whole thing. Because taking the whole thing would be crazy pants.
And then, there’s the reality that the Rangers probably shouldn’t be taking on significant money due to a 34-year-old pitcher with four years left on his deal. They project as an 80-win team, well behind the new big five in the AL, and are led by a 39-year-old free-agent-to-be and a 34-year-old pitcher in decline. There’s a pretty decent chance the Rangers will be sellers this summer.
Getting Greinke for Choo would move the needle a lot, of course, but Arizona would have to be insane to do that deal unless Texas kept most of Choo’s contract too. And even then, Texas would still be pretty clearly behind the Angels and whatever team doesn’t win the AL East for the Wild Card spots. That doesn’t mean the Rangers shouldn’t be trying to get better, but taking on an expensive 34-year-old pitcher is maybe not the best idea for a team that might be pivoting to a rebuild in six months.
So, yeah, I’d call this one a weird rumor. Maybe there’s a deal here that works for both sides, but Greinke for Choo doesn’t look like a fit to me.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.