Royals get their man, bring back Greinke on a one-year deal

March 17th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One of the greatest pitchers in Royals history and one of the longest-tenured pitchers in the game is coming home.

The Royals signed right-hander  to a one-year deal Wednesday, bringing the 38-year-old back to the organization that drafted him No. 6 overall in 2002. The deal is worth $13 million, a source told, and includes $2 million in performance bonuses. Greinke is the second pitcher the Royals added on an active Wednesday after the club traded starter Mike Minor to the Reds for reliever Amir Garrett.

The Royals opened camp with largely the same roster they ended 2021 with. But by the end of Wednesday, they had made two moves that could radically change the chemistry of the clubhouse -- with Greinke’s intriguing personality and Garrett’s outspoken one -- and the talent of the roster with an experienced starter and high-leverage reliever.

The Royals have been eyeing a Greinke return for several years, president of baseball operations Dayton Moore said, and the timing was right this offseason. Greinke was a free agent, and both he and the Royals expressed a desire to have him return.

When a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was finalized and the lockout was lifted, Greinke was the first player the Royals called, and club officials met with Greinke over the weekend. Offloading most of Minor’s $10 million salary for 2022 allowed the Royals payroll flexibility to sign Greinke.

“It seems like over the last three or four years it’s something that, truthfully, we’ve targeted,” Moore said. “A desire to someday bring him back. We follow everything Zack Greinke does. He started in this organization, and we have a very special appreciation for him and Emily and his family. It’s something we wanted to work hard to make happen.

“The fact that we had a previous relationship with Zack and a comfort level, that all came together and lined up and allowed us to execute this and perhaps win the tie. I know there were several suitors out there with Zack Greinke.”

Greinke has been a reliable starter, even as he has entered his late 30s, and that’s what the Royals were prioritizing coming out of the lockout.

Kansas City is hoping for its young starters to take a significant step forward this season. But Moore and general manager J.J. Picollo were looking for someone to lead the group that includes Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Carlos Hernández and Jon Heasley.

Greinke fits that bill as someone with 18 years of Major League experience and 22 appearances in the postseason.

“Our goal coming into this season was to do everything we can to build a championship-caliber pitching staff,” Moore said. “Bringing Zack Greinke back is a big part of that as our young pitchers continue to mature and develop.

“To be able to add Zack into this mix with everything he’s accomplished in his career -- of course he has a special place in Royals history -- is a special thrill for all of us.”

The sentimental value of Greinke coming back to Kansas City was not lost on Moore. Greinke made his Major League debut on May 22, 2004, and spent his first seven seasons as a Royal. He rose to phenom status in his first few years, but the pressure boiled over in 2006 when he left the team during Spring Training for treatment of what was diagnosed as a social anxiety disorder.

He nearly stayed away for good.

Then he returned, found the joy in baseball again and worked his way back to the Majors. Three years later, he became the first Royals pitcher to win a Cy Young Award since David Cone in 1994. Greinke was the most dominant starter in baseball in 2009 with a 2.16 ERA across 229 1/3 innings.

The Royals traded Greinke to the Brewers before the 2011 season after he expressed an unwillingness to stay in Kansas City, which was going through a major rebuild at the time. In return, the Royals got Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi, and they later sent Odorizzi in a package to the Rays for Wade Davis and James Shields.

Cain, Escobar and Davis were key parts of the Royals’ 2014 American League pennant and 2015 World Series title teams.

Greinke went on to pitch for the Brewers (2011-12), Angels ('12), Dodgers ('13-15), D-backs ('16-19) and Astros ('19-21).

In his career, Greinke is 219-132 with a 3.41 ERA and 2,809 strikeouts. He could be the next to join the 3,000-strikeout club as the active pitcher who's closest to reaching the milestone. Greinke leads all active pitchers in games started (488), innings pitched (3,110) and batters faced (12,699). In his 22 postseason games, Greinke has a 4-6 record, 4.14 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 113 innings.

Entering his age-38 season in 2022, Greinke has made at least 25 starts and thrown at least 150 innings in 13 consecutive full seasons (not counting the shortened '20 season), and he has struck out at least 100 batters in all 16 full seasons of his career. He went 11-6 with a 4.16 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 171 innings for the Astros in '21 and made three appearances during Houston’s postseason run, including a scoreless four-inning start in Game 4 of the World Series.

Greinke is still looking for his first World Series championship, but he has plenty of accolades in his Major League career. In addition to his Cy Young Award, he's a six-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Greinke also has two ERA titles, taking the MLB crown in his Cy Young season (2.16) and in 2015 with the Dodgers (1.66).

“He’s a very talented pitcher, very talented person, and he brings value in a very impactful way,” Moore said. “He was one of the guys on the market that we felt would be able to continue to provide us quality innings. Work well with our defense, work well in our ballpark. And really set the tone for our young pitching staff going forward.

“I think it’s really important and crucial to have examples of greatness on your team. Somebody like Zack certainly points the way for many of our young pitchers.”