When the Brewers traded their best prospects for a frontline starting pitcher for the second time in three years, it signaled the Brewers were “going for it” in 2011. The move certainly paid off, as Zack Greinke helped lead the team to the best record in franchise history. For that reason, the trade has to be viewed as a win for the Brewers. To make it a home run trade, though, the Brewers will need to re-sign Greinke.
So what will it take? How much should the Brewers give him? First, we’ll need to determine has value at this moment. I happen to think Greinke’s going to have a huge year this year, as much as been said about his bizarre statistical 2011 (he had the best peripherals in the NL but was plagued by bad defense and bad luck). Still, we need to look at his past few seasons to truly assess his value.
Let’s compare him to some other top pitchers who have re-signed before free agency in the last few years. This will just be a crude comparison, using wins above replacement from Fangraphs.
Zack Greinke WAR
2011: 3.9 (Would have been right around 5 again without the basketball injury)
Jered Weaver WAR
Justin Verlander WAR
Felix Hernandez WAR
And just for fun, here are two more pitchers set to reach free agency with Greinke
Cole Hamels WAR
Matt Cain WAR
Greinke has proven that he is as valuable as any young pitcher who has re-signed with his team before reaching free agency. Admittedly, the comparison to both Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander is not the best comparison; those two pitchers signed multiple years before free agency, while Greinke would be signing just one season before. The closer a pitcher gets to free agency, the larger his contract is going to be.
A better comparison may be Weaver, who signed his five year $85 million contract in the middle of last season. Greinke is a half-season closer to free agency, and he’s been a bit better than Weaver over the last four years, but you can bet that will be used as a measuring stick in any contract discussions.
So, how important is it to re-sign Greinke, anyway?
Without Zack Greinke in 2013 and beyond, the Brewers aren’t much different than in 2009 and 2010, when it was Yovani Gallardo and a bunch of nobodies. Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf are both set to be free agents as well, which means the only returning starters you’d have are Gallardo and Chris Narveson. It’s fair to hope and expect Wily Peralta to enter the rotation, but the Brewers shouldn’t be comfortable adding more than one young pitcher to the rotation. This means they’ll have to re-build their rotation. They’re likely to overpay in free agency for someone who isn’t nearly as good as Greinke. The odds are very likely that the rotation would return to mediocrity.
But, if the Brewers are able to extend Greinke before the season (and it sounds like that’s the only way it would get done), imagine the excitement going forward–not only for the future, but even for this year. A month ago, the Brewers were facing the loss of Prince Fielder, the suspension of Ryan Braun, and one more season before 3/5 of their rotation was set to hit free agency. Now, they could all of a sudden be entering the season with a full year of Braun and their two young aces locked up for the foreseeable future. Suddenly, adding Peralta to Gallardo and Greinke sounds pretty exciting for 2013. The team would look good now and going forward for the next few seasons.
About a month ago, my feeling was that the Brewers had a 50-50 shot of extending Greinke. He didn’t even have an agent, and said he had no reason to sign one. Now, I’m more confident. A few days ago, we started to hear rumblings that Greinke was looking to hire an agent, possibly to finalize a contract. Knowing the way Doug Melvin and Co. operate, it’s likely that we won’t hear much else about the negotiations until a deal is done. One thing that could throw a wrench into this: there have also been rumblings of extensions for both Hamels and Cain. Those could affect Greinke’s negotiations, as he’s proven to be a slightly better pitcher than either of those two.
My guess is that we will hear of an extension sometime before Spring Training ends. I’ll say it will be for five years and $92 million, though that’s admittedly my guess.
You can be sure the Brewers are trying hard to get this done. If they do, it’s a huge win, and last year’s trade looks even better.