'The most fun I’ve had in a while': Greinke returns to Royals on one-year deal

February 4th, 2023

KANSAS CITY -- All offseason long, this was the outcome both sides wanted. It just took, well, all offseason long.

Zack Greinke will be back in 2023, wearing No. 23 for the club he said was, "probably my No. 1 place I was hoping to be." The veteran pitcher agreed to a one-year deal with the Royals this week, an agreement that was made official on Friday, kicking off Royals Rally -- the organization’s fan fest -- at Kauffman Stadium.

Financial terms were not announced by the club, but a source told MLB.com that Greinke’s deal is worth $8.5 million with performance bonuses of up to $7.5 million.

"We’re really happy to announce Zack’s signing," general manager J.J. Picollo said. "I think it’s something we all knew was coming and were hopeful about, going back to the end of the season last year. We had a really good conversation with Zack, he was very clear about how much he liked Kansas City and that he wanted to come back. Along the way, we had some changes with our staff. There were some things to work out.

"We’re just happy he’s back, we know how much he means to this organization and city. And it’s been fun to have him around. He’s been great for our young pitchers, great for the organization, I know our fans appreciate who he is and what he represents and that he’s still a Royal."

To make room on the roster for Greinke, left-handed pitcher Anthony Misiewicz was designated for assignment.

Greinke, 39, is heading into his 20th Major League season since debuting with the Royals as a 20-year-old in 2004. Over that time, he has built an extensive resume, suiting up for the Brewers, Angels, Dodgers, D-backs and Astros, in addition to Kansas City. He returned to the Royals last year -- for the first time since 2010 -- on a one-year $13 million contract and was the team's Opening Day starter.

Greinke allowed two earned runs or fewer in 17 of his 26 starts, posting a 3.68 ERA in 137 innings -- he spent two short stints on the injured list with forearm-related injuries -- and an ERA+ of 111, which is better than league average by 11 percentage points.

Because of that effectiveness, the veteran righty didn’t consider retiring this offseason.

"If I felt bad, then maybe I would have [considered it] more," Greinke said. "But I didn’t really consider it. [My] family likes me playing, I like playing, I feel like I’m still solid. So I’ll keep trying."

And to answer your next question: No, he doesn’t know if 2023 will be his last year.

"It might be. It might not be," Greinke said. "I don’t have a plan at the moment, like a definite plan for it. If I pitch good, feel good, most likely I’ll keep playing."

In 2022, Greinke ranked in the fourth percentile among MLB pitchers in fastball velocity (just over 89 mph). Among 140 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, nobody had a lower strikeout rate than him (12.5 percent), although he also tied for the 12th-lowest walk rate (4.6 percent).

Given Greinke’s age and the decline in his stats, there is risk for Kansas City here, too, but that took a backseat in bringing him back, both because of his 2022 performance and his legacy as a Royal.

Greinke is putting the finishing touches on what's likely to be Hall of Fame career. Among active pitchers, he ended the 2022 season ranking first in starts (514) and innings pitched (3,247), second in wins (223, behind only ) and third in strikeouts (2,882). His 76.5 total wins above replacement (WAR), per Baseball-Reference, place him third among players who remain active, behind only and Verlander.

The starter is also a six-time All-Star, six-time Gold Glove Award winner and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award with the Royals and logged two other top-five finishes on the National League side.

The milestones don’t necessarily drive Greinke, though. The main reason he wanted to return to Kansas City? He and his family had fun last year.

"That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a while, even though we didn’t win a lot of games ... " Greinke said. "The players were fun to be around, the young guys. They’re just happy to be playing, trying their hardest, trying really hard to get better. When we did go on a couple of win streaks, you could tell how much fun it’s going to be if the team ends up doing good this year. It’s going to be even better, because there are good personalities on the team."

Greinke served as a role model for the Royals’ young pitching staff last year, earning praise for his clubhouse presence with the bevy of rookies in Kansas City’s locker room.

"I don’t think that can be overstated," Picollo said. "You need to have that type of presence on the team and somebody they can look to and depend on for leadership, just with his work ethic. And his work ethic is next to none."