Veteran starter Zack Greinke entered the free-agent market this offseason leading up to what will be his 19th major league season. Greinke entered the league in 2004 with the Kansas City Royals. Greinke is a six-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner. The future Hall-of-Famer is currently third among active players by Wins Above Replacement. He ranks 86th all-time. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner has yet to win a World Series. Among active players, only Mike Trout has accounted for more WAR without a World Series win.
Greinke has seen a slight decline in the past two seasons. His ERA in that span, 4.12, is well above his career mark of 3.41. In 29 starts last season, Greinke logged just 120 strikeouts for a career-low 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings. By FIP, 2021 was the worst full-season performance of Greinke’s career.
One of the likeliest landing spots for Greinke is simply a return to where he pitched the last three seasons. The defending American League Champs already re-signed Justin Verlander on a one-year (second-year option), $25-million contract extension early this offseason. The same is possible for Greinke. Following in the rotation, the Houston Astros have youngsters Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia. Both were excellent in their first full-season sample as starters in 2021. Framber Valdez made 22 starts for Houston last season and posted a 3.14 ERA. Lance McCullers rounds out a strong rotation for the Astros entering 2022.
Even still, pitching is the currency of baseball and teams can never have too much depth. The Astros could look to bring back Greinke in hopes he bounces back to the form we saw in 2019 and 2020. Urquidy and Garcia have both logged just one full season starting and the Astros may look to bring back Greinke as a veteran leader (alongside Verlander) in the rotation and as protection against injury. After all, both McCullers and Verlander are coming off of injury themselves. The Astros aren’t the likeliest of destinations for Zack, but wouldn’t surprise me to see them bring the band back together for another World Series run in 2022.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox won the 2018 World Series. They then missed the playoffs in 2019 and 2020 before finding their way back to the ALCS last season. The Red Sox ranked seventh in the American League in ERA and 14th in hits allowed. Even with the return of Chris Sale, the Red Sox rotation hardly seems like a strength heading into 2022. Garrett Richards enters free agency at age 33 and will almost certainly not return. Martin Perez is a free agent as well. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez has already signed with Detroit in free agency. That leaves Boston with Sale, 31-year-old vet Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta (4.53 ERA in 2021), and young prospect Tanner Houck.
The Red Sox have a serious lack of depth in the rotation and could look to supplement their young lineup with more veteran starting pitching. Greinke fits that mold perfectly for the Sox. Boston doesn’t have much young pitching on the horizon and needs to bridge the gap until those prospects are ready. Brayan Bello, an international signing in 2017 by Boston, looks like he could be ready to contribute in 2022. Bellow posted a 3.87 ERA between High-A and AA last season. Fellow top prospect, Bryan Mata, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021 and missed the full season. His major league debut will likely be 2023 and beyond for the Red Sox.
Greinke has made clear in the past that he will sign where the money is. Boston has a serious need in the rotation and should have the money to spend on him. After making a deep playoff push last postseason, Boston will look to again reach the World Series in 2022, and veteran pitching will go a long way to helping them reach that goal.
Kansas City Royals
What better place for Zack Greinke to finish his career than where it all started? The Royals finished 2021 at 74-88. Their .457 winning percentage was the best season finish since 2017, before the departure of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and the rest of their 2015 World Series core. Even still, the Royals haven’t finished north of .500 since 2015. They’ve done so just four times in the last 20 years. There is some optimism for Kansas City, however. Top prospects Bobby Witt Jr, Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez should make their debut in Kansas City this season. Young pitching phenoms Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic, and Brady Singer have already arrived and contributed at the major league level.
Those young pitching prospects have been anything but consistent at the major league level and a strong, veteran presence could help their continued development in the major leagues. The Royals already have that in Mike Minor but could stand to add more depth in the rotation to protect against injury and to save the arms of their young prospects for a potential playoff berth. The biggest question in a Greinke reunion could be the price tag. The Royals currently have $72 million allotted into payroll in 2022. Danny Duffy’s contract is now gone, saving the Royals $16 million that they didn’t have heading into 2021.
It’s possible the Royals are willing to give Greinke a similar deal to what the Astros gave Verlander. The real determining factor lies in whether the Royals feel they can compete in 2022. GM Dayton Moore propelled his team to their first playoff berth and World Series win in 30-years when he traded Greinke back in 2010. Could Greinke take those Royals to the playoffs and beyond once again?