The next major free agent off the board is almost certainly going to be Zack Greinke. According to a wide number of reports, Greinke has narrowed his choices down to the Dodgers and Giants, and is pitting the two NL West rivals against each other with the goal of landing a six year deal at the highest annual average value of any player in baseball history; reportedly, he’s asking for $35 million per season, so if he gets six years, he’d end up with $210 million guaranteed. Even if he has to settle for five years and some kind of sixth year option, that’s still $175 million guaranteed at the AAV he’s seeking.
That’s a bit higher than the 5/$160M I predicted at the start of the off-season, and blows away the crowd’s expected 6/$156M valuation. On the one hand, when the Dodgers are bidding on someone, you can say that the dollars are irrelevant, because they have so much much money that the difference of a few million per year just doesn’t really matter. But this doesn’t seem like it’s just the Dodgers blowing away the competition to get the guy they want back; the Giants are reportedly being very competitive on price, making Greinke’s decision difficult.
And while Greinke is an excellent pitcher, there isn’t a lot of evidence that he’s a $200 million pitcher. For his career, he’s graded out as about a +4 WAR pitcher, regardless of whether you use ERA or FIP, and he’s headed into his age-32 season. Rationally, he’s going to get worse during his next deal, and even if you start him around his career average of +4 WAR — Steamer projects +4.1 for 2016 — then you’re looking at a pitching performance that projects to be worth about $150 million over the next six years.
|2016||32||4.1||$8.0 M||$32.8 M|
|2017||33||3.6||$8.4 M||$30.2 M|
|2018||34||3.1||$8.8 M||$27.3 M|
|2019||35||2.6||$9.3 M||$24.1 M|
|2020||36||2.1||$9.7 M||$20.4 M|
|2021||37||1.6||$10.2 M||$16.3 M|
Greinke’s going to beat that estimate by something like $50 million, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Dodgers and Giants have lost their minds; it’s simply a reflection of the fact that Zack Greinke adds value in ways that aren’t measured by pitching metrics. Jeff covered his fielding prowess the other day, noting that of late, DRS has rated Greinke as about six runs above average per season with his defensive work, excluding the fact that he’s very difficult to steal bases off of. As the piece notes, Greinke even seems to be trending upwards in defensive value, and while fielding isn’t a nut anyone has completely cracked yet, the consensus does seem to be that pitcher fielding is something that is more consistent from year to year than defensive performance at other positions. The fact that Greinke has beaten his FIP three years in a row, while improving at fielding balls hit back to him, is probably not a coincidence.
Greinke’s also excellent at preventing base stealers, which DRS also measures; when you add that into the calculations, Greinke has averaged +6 DRS per 200 innings throughout his career. Even if we regress him back to something like +3 or +4 runs saved as a fielder going forward, Greinke’s worth a few million more than just his pitching projection would suggest, based on his ability to help himself on defense.
But that’s not the only way Greinke helps himself on days when he pitches. Because he’s an NL pitcher, he also hits, and no pitcher in baseball hits better than Greinke. Over the last three years, he’s hit .249/.300/.357, good for a .292 wOBA, 22 points better than Madison Bumgarner, and relative to a replacement-level hitting pitcher, he’s added +2.8 WAR with his bat during that stretch. How well his offensive production will hold up as he ages is an open question, but the spread in talent among pitcher hitting means that he doesn’t have to be great to still be valuable at the plate; the rest of his peers set a very low bar. Again, we have to regress his observed performance when looking at a future projection, but it seems reasonable to expect something in the range of four of five extra runs per season from Greinke’s bat.
Steamer’s +4.1 WAR projection is just for his pitching, but between his offense and his defense, he’s probably something more like a +5 WAR pitcher. And if you bump him to that level, and run his contract through our standard contract estimator, it looks something like this.
|2016||32||5.0||$8.0 M||$40.0 M|
|2017||33||4.5||$8.4 M||$37.8 M|
|2018||34||4.0||$8.8 M||$35.3 M|
|2019||35||3.5||$9.3 M||$32.4 M|
|2020||36||3.0||$9.7 M||$29.2 M|
|2021||37||2.5||$10.2 M||$25.5 M|
At five years, he’d be expected to provide $175 million in value, or exactly the $35 million AAV he’s reportedly asking for. At six years, it’s $200 million, just a tick below that $35 million mark, but right in the range of where the offers are expected to come in at.
The Dodgers and Giants aren’t crazy, and Greinke’s not a lunatic for asking for $35 million per year. He’s probably the most well-rounded pitcher in baseball, helping his team with his arm, his bat, and his glove. The combination of the three makes him as valuable overall as David Price, and while he won’t get seven years and probably won’t get another opt-out because of his age, these salaries are perfectly rational given the market. As a pitcher, Greinke isn’t worth this, but as a player who pitches and fields and hits, $200 million is a fair price.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.