Right-hander Zack Greinke has reportedly paired up with agent Casey Close for the upcoming season, which has raised expectations that serious contract discussions are either underway or about to occur between the Brewers and their ace.
I am not about to argue over what profiles as a fair price for Zack Greinke. Nicholas Zettel wrote an in-depth piece yesterday on contract comparables and what Greinke could ultimately look to demand on any potential contract extension with the Brewers. If you have any thoughts or questions about the price tag, I urge you to head over to his article and peruse the information.
Instead, the purpose of this article is to argue that Milwaukee needs Zack Greinke.
The Brewers have learned the hard way that postseason berths only happen with adequate pitching. The 2008 run only happened after Doug Melvin swung a brilliant mid-season trade for CC Sabathia, and the 2011 postseason run came as the team’s pitching staff posted the fourth-best team FIP in the league. Scoring runs is absolutely necessary (see Seattle and Oakland), but this Brewers organization has always been successful when it has quality pitching staffs with a legitimate ace atop the heap.
If Greinke were to leave via free agency after the 2012 season and sign with another organization, the Milwaukee Brewers would be left with Yovani Gallardo as the de facto ace. Gallardo is a very fine pitcher. He posted a 3.52 ERA last season and has essentially been a three-win pitcher in each of the past three years. That is extremely valuable for an organization, and at only age 26, the young right-hander still projects to have room for improvement before hitting his proverbial peak years in the next two or three seasons.
Still, Gallardo does not profile as a traditional ace. He surrenders too many home runs and does not generate enough swinging strikes to be a true ace. I would argue that he is a fringe ace — a pitcher that is a #1 on a second or third tier team — but not a true ace in the definitional sense of the word.
Zack Greinke, on the other hand, has proven that he can carry a pitching staff for consecutive months. He is a perennial Cy Young candidate and posted a 2.98 FIP last season. The peripherals are phenomenal, and he should better be able to keep opposing hitters off his fastball this year with his newly-developed cutter that has dominated teams this spring. By all accounts, Greinke appears poised for a Cy Young caliber season.
The Milwaukee Brewers do not often have the ability to sign players of this caliber. CC Sabathia went elsewhere because Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio could not hope to match the Yankees’ lucrative offer. Cole Hamels should hit the market this spring, but he projects to garner a Cliff Lee type contract with another stellar performance this year for the Phillies.
Zack Greinke could be had around the five-year, $100M mark with a team option for a sixth year. That obviously sounds extremely high, as the Milwaukee Brewers would be paying him $20M per year, but consider what type of value that is paying to receive in this new market. Teams are roughly paying $5M per win on the open market at this time. A $20M per year contract would necessitate that Greinke produce at least +4.0 WAR per season. In each of the last four seasons, Greinke has compiled a four-win season, and that includes the past two campaigns that saw the right-hander “underperform” to expectations.
The Milwaukee Brewers have a chance to legitimately buy low at $20M per year on Zack Greinke. That sounds crazy to say at this point, but his past performance shows that to be true. If it were not for his anxiety issues (which have been largely non-existent in Milwaukee) and his 2010 season, Greinke would be looking at legitimate ace money on the open market and would be out of the Brewers’ price range.
This is the Brewers’ chance to secure an ace for the starting rotation. Without Greinke, the organization will likely be without one for the foreseeable future. Gallardo does not project to be an ace unless something clicks with his changeup and he can utilize it regularly against lefties and righties. The quartet of young arms in the minors — Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Tyler Thornburg — will probably not produce an ace, as all four are projected to be #2 or #3 starters, at the most.
Most playoff teams need an ace. The Cardinals had Chris Carpenter last year. The Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee. The Diamondbacks had Ian Kennedy (who postsed ace-like numbers last year). The Yankees had CC Sabathia. The Rays had David Price. The Tigers had Justin Verlander. The Rangers had C.J. Wilson (who also pitched like an ace last year).
The Brewers will not have that ace atop their rotation without signing Zack Greinke, and the Brewers have a chance to sign him to a long-term contract that could legitimately look reasonable — if not actually enviable — as the years progress. He will be out of the team’s price range if he converts his 2.98 FIP into actual run prevention this upcoming season. The time to engage Greinke in contract discussions is now. The time to sign him to a contract extension is now. The time to secure the Brewers’ future starting rotation is now.
Imagine … in a couple of seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers could trot out a starting rotation that looks like this:
(1) RHP Zack Greinke
(2) RHP Yovani Gallardo
(3) RHP Wily Peralta
(4) RHP Taylor Jungmann
(5) LHP Jed Bradley
That projection obviously puts the carriage before the horses, as guaranteeing big league success from any pitching prospect is foolish, but dreams of that rotation should place a smile on the face of many Brewers fans.