This is less of a column and more of a proposed question. Zack Greinke is one of the better pitchers in baseball. The Cy Young winner has seen his ups and downs. He has come back admirably from severe emotional stress and anxiety issues. The question I want to ask is: Are Major League teams in agreement that Greinke is too fragile to be paid as much as his Cy Young award should dictate?
On the surface you might say, “Well, he’s only 27, and he is making an average of $9.5 million a year. That’s not bad.”
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And I think that’s an excellent point, but is it really that simple?
Look at the last nine pitchers to win the Cy Young: Brandon Webb and Johan Santana (’06), Jake Peavy and CC Sabathia (’07), Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee (’08), Lincecum and Greinke in (’09) and Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez (’10).
Of the names on that list, six of them have signed $52 million dollar contacts or better. Five of those players will hit $20 million a year at some point in their contract. Greinke’s highest total will be $13 million. Not bad, but it was a back-loaded contract that was built around him being healthy in every sense of the word.
Okay, I understand that most of the names above are some of the most dominant today. If that’s your argument, then let’s look at a player who — through this stage of Greinke’s career — is similar.
Examine Javier Vazquez’s 2004 paycheck. According to inflation, his contract is worth nearly $2 million more annually than Greinke’s! I chose Vazquez because baseball-reference.com says they are comparable statistically through the age of 27. Also, they pitched on similarly bad teams, so you can use the wins-loss record as a bit of barometer. Did Vazquez have the pedigree that Greinke had? Of course he didn’t. Vazquez wasn’t an All-Star until he was 28. Greinke was an All-Star at 25. Vazquez has never finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting. Greinke won before he signed his four-year, $38 million deal. Oh, did I mention that Greinke even garnered MVP votes? Vazquez had five double-digit win seasons compared to Greinke’s four. However, Greinke had the year he sat out and a year in the bullpen. Yet, Vazquez, in his first seven years — minus Greinke’s lost season — finished with 11 less wins.
Again, take a look at the age comparisons. Do you see the guy three below Greinke? Yeah, I’d say John Smoltz is pretty good. With all that said, what other explanation can there be besides people are afraid of his mental state? Now, the question remains: Do you take the risk?
Does Grienke’s 6.48 ERA in the postseason lend credence to the naysayers? Or was this just a learning experience?
In fairness to Grienke, he isn’t the only high-profile figure to be affected by this. We all remember Chuck Knoblauch, and there were whispers that Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays couldn’t handle the pressure. If this excerpt from *61 doesn’t inspire and show the pressures of this game, I don’t know what will.
I do know that the Milwaukee Brewers are getting a bargain. I know that if I’m a small-market team I’ll pay the man. But, I also know that if I’m big market team, I’m going to proceed cautiously, analyze the data and tell him, “here’s a sports psychologist and $5 million, now sign your name.”
You may never see Greinke wear “NY” on his hat or “Sox” across his chest or sign a check next to a green mascot, but if the Brewers are dumb enough to let him walk next season, I think there’s a certain group of loveable losers to the east that have money, guts and a guy looking to bring a splash.
I think he has the tools and the will to overcome this. For Greinke’s sake, I hope he becomes better than Smoltz. It would be a shame to have a guy with all that talent become Ismael Valdez.