Price deal bodes well for Greinke and Co.
The pitching pool in this free-agent market is deeper than we've seen in years. But if you thought the high supply would somehow drive down the price of doing business, well, uh ...
David Price, a seven-year, $217 million commitment from the Red Sox, just got the largest contractual guarantee afforded a starting pitcher. Jordan Zimmermann, with five years and $110 million from the Tigers, just got by far the largest guarantee afforded a guy who has had Tommy John elbow surgery. Even J.A. Happ, who just four short months ago was lugging around a 4.64 ERA and was traded straight up for a prospect who wasn't among the top 20 in the Pirates' system, has secured a three-year, $36 million guarantee from the Blue Jays.
This, in short, bodes well for the biggest fish left in the free-agent pond. Zack Greinke has the eye and interest of two National League West juggernauts, which bodes well for him. And the aforementioned price points -- especially the Price point -- mean Johnny Cueto might not have been totally crazy to turn down $120 million from the D-backs.
Here's an update on where the post-Price pitching market stands:
1. Greinke's on deck
With the clarity that comes from Price -- the market's No. 1 No. 1 -- coming off the board, Greinke's situation could be settled in a matter of days, if not hours. Greinke is widely expected to remain in the Senior Circuit, and though the Cubs and Cardinals have always been considered options for the right-hander, the industry-wide expectation all along is that he'll either stay with the Dodgers or defect to the Giants, and that's not expected to change now.
Los Angeles has been very, very good for Greinke, to the tune of a 51-15 record, 2.30 ERA, 156 ERA+ and 1.027 WHIP in three seasons. There is something to be said for comfort, and L.A. is a place where Greinke has clearly been comfortable. Relations with the Dodgers' front office are so strong that the Andrew Friedman regime welcomed Greinke, who very well might one day occupy a front-office spot all his own, into the war room on Draft day.
Having said that, make no mistake: The Giants have the financial resources to overwhelm Greinke. They had a ton of money come off the books this offseason, and their string of 408 straight sellouts and their increasingly dynamic revenue streams give them the ability to significantly add to the player payroll in advance of yet another run at an even-year World Series title.
There's also this: Greinke and Yasiel Puig have reportedly had multiple altercations. Might Greinke want some assurance that the Dodgers plan to part with Puig this offseason before signing any dotted lines? It's not inconceivable.
2. Will Cueto's bet backfire?
Have you turned down any $120 million guarantees lately? Didn't think so. Then again, unless your name is Clayton Kershaw, you don't have a better ERA than Cueto has compiled over the past four seasons. The money the D-backs reportedly offered Cueto was less on an average-annual basis than what Zimmermann received from the Tigers, so from that perspective, you can understand Cueto's belief in his ability to do better.
Also, Cueto, as a result of being traded midseason, is not tied to Draft-pick compensation -- a fact that already worked in Price's favor and should help Cueto, too.
Still, there are only so many teams that will be comfortable committing big bucks and six or seven years to a guy whose 2015 came with so many red flags. Cueto's Royals tenure was a real roller-coaster ride, and the Reds twice gave Cueto extra rest because of a minor elbow condition.
You would think an NL team would feel more comfortable locking in with Cueto, if only because that's where he's enjoyed so much success. Maybe the runner-up in the Greinke sweepstakes goes hard after him once that situation is settled. Maybe the D-backs eventually up their ante. Maybe the Cardinals, who have big money to spend and a clear rotation need with Lance Lynn out of the 2016 picture, come calling. We shall see.
3. The Kenta Maeda maybe
Maeda is still a maybe, because Japan's Central League star has not yet been posted by the Hiroshima Carp, but that news could come any day now.
With 27-year-old Maeda, teams would have the rare opportunity to land a free-agent arm who is still in what are considered to be the "prime" years. Of course, Maeda has been pitching in professional baseball in Japan since the age of 20, so he's accumulated 1,509 2/3 innings (posting a 2.39 ERA, 3.87 K/BB ratio and 1.048 WHIP). And as we've seen most recently with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, while Japanese pitchers might initially thrive at the Major League level, the change in workload can disrupt their elbow condition.
Maeda could be a guy the D-backs feel comfortable going after aggressively, as general manager Dave Stewart has been closely monitoring him for a while.
4. Beware the Shark
There's no pleasant way to describe Jeff Samardzija's 2015 season, other than to say it's mercifully over. But here's the deal: This is a guy who, as a result of beginning his career in the bullpen, has less than 1,000 innings to his name. He's seven months older than Price but has thrown 450 fewer regular-season innings. So Samardzija has a "young" arm, relatively speaking, he's healthy, he's been a workhorse in his starting career and multiple clubs will convince themselves he's one mechanical tweak away from unlocking the upside he displayed in the first half of 2014.
Samardzija might have had a sub-par (to put it kindly) '15, and he's tied to Draft-pick compensation (so the Orioles and D-backs, for instance, might shy away, given that they've got a pick in the teens). But Shark is a still a big fish in this pool. A return to the Cubs could be in the offing, but of course there's a wide swath of teams that could likely play in this market if we safely assume Samardzija will fall south of $100 million terrain.
5. The second-tier stalwarts
As we saw with Happ coming off the board so quickly, there's no law that says the dominoes have to fall in order. Wei-Yin Chen, Yovani Gallardo, Hisashi Iwakuma, Ian Kennedy and the ageless John Lackey are all mid-tier options with appeal.
But the key names to really keep a close eye on are Mike Leake and Scott Kazmir. Like Happ, they were dealt mid-year and therefore weren't eligible for a qualifying offer. So we could see teams jump on them before or during the upcoming Winter Meetings.