Short of a ring, Zack Greinke has accomplished nearly everything one could hope for in an MLB career. He’s won a Cy Young award, been to All-Star games, taken home gold gloves and silver sluggers, and made north of $300 million. Now, at 38 years old, the future Hall of Famer is a free agent for the first time since the 2015-16 offseason. Back then, Greinke was coming off of perhaps the best season of his career. He tossed 222.2 innings with an eye-popping 1.66 ERA, narrowly missing out on his second Cy Young award to Jake Arrieta and his legendary second half of 2015. He managed to parlay that performance into a $206.5 million, six-year contract, which, at the time, set the record for annual average value ($34.4 million).
Now, six years later, Greinke is once again a free agent, now at a very different point in his career. Long gone are his days of competing for Cy Young awards, barring an Adam Wainwright-esque late-career resurgence. But, he is still a quality major league arm that is more than capable of eating innings at the back end of somebody’s rotation.
A return to Houston seems very unlikely. A report from Bob Nightengale earlier this winter stated explicitly that Greinke would be leaving Houston and planned to continue pitching with a National League club. Even with the likely addition of a DH to the NL in 2022, Greinke still wants to hit, just as he always has. Whether or not this will come to fruition or be a true factor in where he ultimately signs, we’ll just have to wait to see. At least for now, expect Greinke to be suiting up for a team in the senior circuit.
The Astros should be okay without Greinke. Having already re-signed Justin Verlander, the Astros already have a strong group of five starters under contract for 2022. Verlander is joined by Lance McCullers, Jake Odorizzi, Jose Urquidy, and Framber Valdez. While depth could be an issue, Greinke doesn’t seem like the solution there.
Most teams, particularly NL teams should be interested in Greinke. There is plenty of value to be had of pitchers such as Greinke, who can eat innings, even if not doing so while being elite at run prevention. The Cardinals could make a lot of sense. At this point in his career, Greinke is a pitch-to-contact guy, ranking in the 11th percentile in K% in 2021. Playing in front of the best defense in the league is beneficial for any pitcher, but especially someone like Greinke.
The Braves are another potential fit. They currently have five starters under contract in Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Huascar Ynoa. The first three of these pitchers all have significant injury concerns associated with them, so depth should be a priority. Additionally, Greinke could join Morton as a veteran presence in an otherwise very youthful rotation.
Finally, the Reds could be a good fit. It’s not entirely clear how competitive the Reds will be in 2022, but they will certainly need reinforcements in the rotation. Currently, they have Reiver Sanmartin, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle under contract for next year’s rotation. Sanmartin has appeared in just two games in his major league career. The other three, meanwhile, have been heavily involved in trade rumors. It seems almost certain that at least one will be dealt by spring, and possibly all three will be gone. With that in mind, a veteran innings-eater such as Greinke would be extremely valuable in Cincinnati.
Zack Greinke has established himself not only as one of the best pitchers of this generation but one of the most interesting players in the league throughout his career. In the twilight of his career, he now enters free agency for what could be the final time.
Matt O’Halloran is a junior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He works in analytics with the school’s baseball program. He is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and an editor at Diamond Digest. He can be found on Twitter @matto20.