The Arizona Diamondbacks are apparently willing – even trying – to move their ace pitcher Zack Greinke (and his massive contract). Offloading the money could prove difficult for Arizona, but there are some teams who could take on the salary…but which team is the best fit?
My suggestion is the Atlanta Braves.
The Braves are coming off a massively successful 2018 campaign - one that included the emergence of Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Ozzie Albies - on the way to winning the NL East.
The recent signing of Josh Donaldson to man the hot corner saw Atlanta up the ante versus the Nationals and projected big spenders in Philadelphia. The Braves also brought veteran catcher Brian McCann back to where it all began. The presence of these veteran personalities should go a long way toward the further development of the young Atlanta clubhouse.
So, we’ve established the Braves are pretty serious about staying atop the division. What can they do to step on the throats of not only their division rivals, but the entire National League? Trade for Greinke.
First – let’s get the easy part of this discussion out of the way: the salary. Yes, it’s massive. Over the next three seasons, it amounts to $104.5 million. For the 2019 season, it’s at $34.5 million. The important thing here is that the Braves are very young, which means they have a lot of cheap talent.
Before arbitration, Atlanta’s payroll sits at about $76.2 million (including the additions of Donaldson and McCann). There are eight players headed to arbitration this year, at a total projected cost of $28.6 million, placing the payroll projection at roughly $104.8 million. The addition of Greinke, and without offloading any salary, would put Atlanta’s payroll at $139.3 million for 2018. This is right in line with the average MLB payroll from 2018. And remember, the Donaldson contract is only one year, so in 2020, that’s $23 million off the books, making it easier to absorb Greinke’s deal going forward.
Now for the baseball reasons. Look at Atlanta’s rotation. The holdovers are Mike Foltynewicz, Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, and 2018 deadline acquisition Kevin Gausman. According to MLB.com, their current fifth starter is young prospect Touki Toussaint (age 22).
Foltynewicz had a great 2018, no doubt about it. How sustainable is that level of success, though? His FIP in 2018 was 3.37, and his prior best was 4.24 in 2016. His ERA+ is just 98 for his career versus a 142 in 2018. Julio Teheran has been more steady than Folty over his career, though has had his ups and downs as well.
Newcomb has a much smaller sample size of just 264 big league innings. His FIP and ERA+ have been close to the same in both his MLB seasons. At worse, he probably is what he is. Which isn’t bad at all, average to slightly above average. At best, if he can improve his control, he could have a nice ceiling. But if he’s just a number three or four starter, that’s fine, too.
The best of the current group might be Gausman. Coming to the NL, from the hard hitting AL East, saw his production improve greatly. He was already a good pitcher in the AL, and he should be even better in the NL, if his short stint in Atlanta is to be believed.
My point? Do you want to rely on any of these guys to lead your staff, if you’re the Braves? If you’re really investing in winning, a proven veteran would stabilize the rotation. Which brings us to Zack Greinke. Yes, he’s getting up in age. But that doesn’t matter. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Yes, Greinke is heading into his age 35 season. So, you’re buying him from age 35 to 37, if you’re Atlanta, and that’s fine, because Greinke is a “pitcher”. Not many guys in baseball understand the art of pitching quite like Zack. Not many prepare as well as Zack. Not many pitchers are gifted with such fluid mechanics (no funky delivery to mess up his body). And not many have the repertoire that Greinke possesses: four-seamer, change, slider, curve, sinker…and then that “other” curve, the one he’ll drop in at 65 mph on occasion and really freak a hitter out.
Here’s the deal with Zack. He’s still great, and I think he will be for the duration of this contract. For his career, he has a BB/9 rate of 2.2, a K/9 rate of 8.2, and an ERA+ of 124. In the last three years (from age 32-34), during which he was throwing his home games in a hitter’s park, his numbers were: BB/9 of 2.0, K/9 of 8.7, and an ERA+ of 127. He bettered his career averages across the board in a very hitter friendly park.
Now, he did suffer from a little jump in home runs allowed, but that’s to be expected. In his last three seasons, he gave up 1.2 HR/9 versus a 0.9/9 career rate. That should even out a bit in Atlanta. Looking at park factors, the HR number for Arizona is .955 versus .802 in Atlanta, which is a pretty solid drop.
Another thing Zack brings to the table is durability. You want your ace to be dependable, on the bump every five days, so look no further. Greinke has thrown 200+ innings in eight of his last 11 seasons and has a 162 game average of 208 innings pitched for his career.
Lastly, while Zack may not be a traditional vocal leader type, think of the benefits the young rotation would get just observing his daily routine, his prep work with video and scouting reports, his pitch mixes, showing you can win with strikeouts or without, and throwing pitches at different speeds.
One more benefit? Atlanta can now let Toussaint develop a little more in Triple-A. You can never have too much quality starting pitching. Now you have Toussaint getting a little more seasoning (maybe working on that walk rate) and pitching as your sixth starter, when needed.
We now know that Greinke doesn’t have Atlanta on his no-trade list, but we don’t know whether Arizona is really going to move him. If the stars aligned, Atlanta has the farm depth to make a play at Zack, and if they want to win a World Series, they absolutely should.