Breaking Down A Potential Zack Greinke Deal

Incase you haven’t heard, which I’m sure you have, the Braves are interested in Milwaukee Brewers RHP Zack Greinke. If you are tired of hearing about this rumor, I wouldn’t suggest reading any further. If you are, grab something to eat and drink because this could get lengthy.

Greinke is currently pitching in his age 28 season for the Brewers. He was traded to the Brewers in December of 2010 from the Kansas City Royals, where he won the American League CY Young in 2009. Greinke is currently in the final year of his 4-year $38M deal. Right now the Brewers sit in 4th place in the NL Central, 6.5 games out. If they do not improve this position by the deadline, they will likely try to move him. There is no guarentee he will be traded though. If they are to do so, they would be expecting some top/mid-level prospects in return. This would be ideal for the club instead of losing him to free agency.

In 17 starts so far in 2012, Greinke has accumulated a 3.08/2.36/2.76 ERA/FIP/xFIP line. His FIP currently puts him 2nd among all starters this season, only trailing Stephen Strasburg. Has also accumulated a fWAR of 3.5, again trailing only Strasburg among pitchers. Like wise, his K/9 and BB/9 are currently at better than his career norm rates. It is no question Greinke is having a phenomenal year, even comparable to that of his Cy Young season. These types of stats are nothing new for Greinke though. It has put him in company with some of the best starters in the game.

*The numbers below are from the 2008-2012 seasons. I normally do not like arbitrary endpoints, but this is the season where Greinke became the type of starter the Braves should expect to acquire. It is also the season he became a full-time starter for the Royals.

Player IP ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
Halladay 1041 2/3 2.69 2.86 2.95 31.2
Lee 989 1/3 2.95 2.81 3.21 29.9
Sabathia 1065 3.09 3.18 3.35 29.2
Verlander 1040 3.36 3.16 3.55 28.7
Greinke 931 1/3 3.33 2.96 3.21 26.9
Lincecum 971 2/3 3.07 2.88 3.15 26.2
Hernandez 1033 1/3 2.91 3.23 3.34 24.9
Haren 1018 3.50 3.31 3.31 24.7
Lester 914 2/3 3.46 3.46 3.50 23.0
Weaver 936 1/3 3.19 3.47 3.91 21.0

The above list is the top 10 pitchers ranked by fWAR during the 2008-2012 span. As you can see, since 2008, he has been a top 5 pitcher in the Major Leagues. There are still a ton of great pitchers who are not on that list. He ranks both 5th in FIP and fWAR. Also according to my own calculations, he ranks 3rd in IP/fWAR only behind Lee and Halladay. It is no question that he is a true number one starter. He has also done this with one of the highest BABIP’s among top-tier starters, suggesting he has either been a tad unlucky or had played behind some poor defenses. This will most likely not change in the future though. Many might not realize how good Greinke actually has been until you evaluate his numbers. I was suprised myself that he was a top 5 pitcher in the game. Playing with a pair of small mid-west teams has sure helped him fly a bit under the radar. Don’t be fooled, the Braves would be acquiring one of the best pitchers in the game who is considered in the prime of his career.

Of course acquiring this type of talent is going to require the Braves to hand over some top players and prospects. The Brewers will likely want some pitching in return. In my opinion, Teheran, Minor, Delgado and Vizcaino are all available for trade. I don’t see any teams wanting Jair Jurrjens as a trade piece. Right now, all four have lowered their trade value from this time last year. Teheran is still in triple-A, Minor and Delgado have been below average in the big leagues and Vizcaino is out for the year with Tommy John. I would assume the Braves would try to hold on to Teheran who still has the ceiling of a number one or two starter. Minor and Delgado should be fair game and could be center pieces of the deal. Both are still very young and have a lot of learning and growth left. I do not know what the Brewers stance would be on Vizcaino. It would also probably take another top-level prospect, maybe  Salcedo or Bethancourt. Maybe a lower level throw in prospect. I won’t go too much further into possibilities because no one besides scouts or front offices have any true idea until it becomes reported. Those are some names that have been thrown around and would also be my guesses that would interest the Brewers.

All and all, the Brewers won’t be taking any shortcuts on this. They will want some premier talent in return. It is hard to tell how much they value the Braves young pitching or any prospects in the system, but it should be noted again that all four prospects have lost some of their trade value since last season. As the trade deadline gets closer, we should hear more about what names are being tossed around in a potential deal.

Now this is all good and dandy if the trade goes through, but lets remember Greinke is a free agent after this season. In order for this trade to be worth it, the Braves should be pretty confident they will be able to sign him after the season. If not, this could turn into a Mark Texiera nightmare. I would not make this trade whatsoever unless they plan on signing him.

Here is a look at some of the contracts of top of the rotation starters who have been signed in the past couple seasons. Hopefully this will give us a broad outline of the possible money the Braves will have to hand out to Greinke after season end if they wish to resign him.

Player L/R Years Total AAV
Sabathia L 5 $122 $24
Lee L 5 $120 $24
Cain R 6 $128 $21
Halladay R 3 $60 $20
Weaver R 5 $85 $17
Verlander R 5 $80 $16
Hernandez R 5 $78 $16

It seems like the Braves would give Greinke a 5-year deal with a possible option for a sixth. Contract details can get confusing and messy, so ill just talk about the big numbers. This being his age 28 season, the Braves would have Greinke in his prime years, 29-33/34. I think they could get him to sign for a 5 year/$85M, or  $17M/yr.

We will assume that the Braves payroll stays around the same, which COTS Contracts has at just above $93.5M. So how would the Braves be able to take on this type of contract? Well, with Chipper Jones retiring at season’s end, that will free up $14M. Lets also not forget Derek Lowe’s miserable contract will be off the books as well, $10M. Depending on how things turn at the end of the season, the Braves could also non-tender Jair Jurrjens if they feel he is unneeded. Jurrjens is currently making $5M this season. So with those contracts possibly vanishing at the end of the season, the Braves will have some money to spend.

Taking into account arbitration raises, the Braves will have some big decisions to make with the influx of freed up cash. I won’t get into the details of any players in this piece, but possible contract candidates are Prado, Heyward, Bourn and McCann in the coming years. All are good players, so the Braves won’t be able to keep  them all considering their payroll. They will have to find which provide the greatest value to the team in the long run. Assuming no payroll increases, they Braves will have to divide up money to make sure they can keep other their young talent that will be due up for arbitration.

So, the Braves will in fact have money to resign Greinke if they would like. They must do some serious planning to make sure they have money to sign some of their younger players. Having a pitcher take up roughly 18% of a team’s payroll is a scary thought, especially for a mid-market team. Traditionally, this is not the way the Braves have obtained their success. Drafting and developing through the farm system has what has made the Braves an annual contender for the post-season. It would be a step outside of what is they do best. Two free agent pitching contracts did not work as planned and turn out very poorly,  Kenshen Kawakami (3-year/$23M) and Derek Lowe (4-year/$60M). Neither were top 5 pitchers in the game but they took up a lot of payroll space and provided little value to the team every 5th day. It would be a different approach to a team who rarely signs a big name free agent from outside the system. This doesn’t mean it will not work though.

In my opinion, I think this would be a good move for the Braves. Originally, I did not think it would be worth it, but after researching and analyzing just how dominant Greinke has been and the stability he would add to the rotation, I am for it. The Braves will have money freed up to play with, lets just hope they play with it wisely and don’t overpay. Anytime you’re going after a big name player, it is a fairly large risk to take on. So far there has been good news though. In an article by Jon Heyman, Greinke is said to like the possibility of going to the Braves. The article lists reason such as being close to his Orlando home and him putting the Braves high on his wish list for free agency. One knock about Greinke has been is lack of wanting to join a major market because of the pressure he would seem to face. After almost quitting baseball once, he was diagnosed with “social anxiety disorder.” I do not buy into any arguments that would suggest this would affect him in big games or playoff situations. That could benefit the Braves, keeping the big cities and spenders out of his free agent bidding. Any advantage that would allow them to save money is another reason to go ahead and push this deal.

The interest is mutual. Even if the Braves aren’t able to matchup a trade for him, I can definitely see them making a bit for him during the off-season. I think their best bet is to get him now, which would get them an extra half-year of his services and seriously increase their 2012 playoff chances. After the loss of Brandon Beachy, a top of the rotation starter would be welcomed. The worst possible situation is they trade for him, then are unable to sign him. Basically the disaster that was the Mark Texiera trade.

So there you have it. No doubt this will be an interesting follow as the trade deadline approaches. Stay tuned for more news and updates.

Be sure to follow on Twitter: @decisions_brave

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6 Comments on “Breaking Down A Potential Zack Greinke Deal”

  1. JNick says:

    I’d love a ZG deal provoded we can sign him long term, and provided we don’t have to give up Bethancourt….because McCann isn’t the answer beyond next year….maybe not even beyond this year. He’s fallen off quickly.

    • Andrew Sisson says:

      It would be foolish to jump the gun on McCann saying he’s done. Yes, he is having a very bad year, but he has been the most consistent player the Braves have had since he got called up. One of the most consistent players from the toughest position on the field. We still have the rest of this year and all of next year. So don’t burry him yet.

      I do agree that the Braves should try to keep Bethancourt out of the deal if possible.

      • Jeff says:

        Exact;y.. Right-on advice. McCann’s Value goes Well beyond his Offenseive stats.. an experienced Catcher is more Valuable than any other Position Player, Including Michael Bourn.

      • JNick says:

        ….and as i bad-mouth McCann, he hits another ‘slam against the Phillies. At least he hits against them ;)

  2. Great piece Andrew. Pretty much agree with it all, and I think Salcedo will be a guy that could be included in the deal. Hopefully Martin Prado will be around to handle third base for a while and that leaves potentially our best position prospect blocked. May as well spin him for one of the best pitchers in the game.

    • JNick says:

      I saw some stats the other day that were scary…Salcedo has something like 27 errors in about 50 games this year…wow. I know that a lot of young guys have issues with defense in the minors (believe Chipper had some problems) but still…that’s kind of a glaring stat.


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