To no one’s surprise, the Cubs’ offseason focus is expected to be pitching, pitching, Count Chocula, and more pitching.
That pitching will almost certainly not include top righty Zack Greinke, for a variety of reasons.
Among the reasons that Greinke and his lofty contract demands aren’t expected to be in the Cubs’ plans this offseason is because “the Cubs don’t consider a pitcher with a history of social-anxiety issues a good fit for the Chicago market.” That comes from Gordon Wittenmyer, and marks the first report stating explicitly what many have privately suspected about Greinke – namely that, money aside, he isn’t a good fit for the Cubs because of the social-anxiety issues. Then again, I can’t imagine those issues aren’t also prickled by playing, essentially, in Los Angeles, but the Angels are eager to try and re-sign him.
Even if you could ignore that possible issue (what do we really know about it, anyway?), consideration of (1) the market for starting pitchers, (2) Greinke’s expected demands, and (3) Greinke’s performance over the last few years should provide enough disincentive for the Cubs.
At the outset, it’s worth noting that the Cubs shouldn’t necessarily shy away from all big-time free agents simply because they do not expect to be competitive in 2013. The short version of that argument – which has been the subject of debates in the comments for some time now, and which will be the subject of a longer post later in the off-season – is that you’ve got to sign guys when they’re available. Given the shifting free agent landscape, thanks in large part to the new CBA, you can’t always “wait” to sign big free agents when you’re on the cusp of competitiveness. Sometimes, if a guy is the right fit for your plan long-term, you’ve got to strike when he’s there to be signed, even if it’s a year or two early.
But Zack Greinke isn’t that guy.
First, consider the market for starting pitchers this Winter. Although there are a number of modestly attractive names – Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum and others – each comes with a wart or two that prevent them from being considered among that upper tier of free agents. In fact, on the pitching side, Greinke probably stands alone as the only elite starting pitcher on the free agent market this Winter. Why is that a reason for the Cubs not to buy? Simple supply and demand. The winning bidder on a free agent is, almost by definition, going to have bid at the top of the market for a player they sign, but that “overpaying” action is even more pronounced when you’re talking about a “one of a kind” asset, which, this year, Greinke concededly is. But is he the kind of franchise-altering free agent that you go nuts on just because he’s the only guy on the market? No. He isn’t.
Second, and relatedly, those contract demands – man, they’re gonna be steep. Because of his unique status on the market this Winter, the soon-to-be-29-year-old is going to be looking at the extensions to Matt Cain (five additional years after 2012, $112.5 million in guaranteed cash) and Cole Hamels (six years and $144 million) as a starting point in his negotiations While interested teams might say he’s no Cain or Hamels, Greinke will argue that those were mere extensions, given on favorable terms to the home-town team. Greinke, for that reason, could demand even more than those two got. And he might just get it. Over/under on years? 6.5, and I’ll take the over. Over/under on dollars? $150 million. Again, I’ll take the over. How attractive is he looking right now?
If he’s still looking good to you, perhaps you should look at his career numbers once again. His 114 ERA+ this year wasn’t even among the top 25 in baseball, and was his best season since his Cy Young effort in 2009. That 114 number is also his career mark, which is just 4 points better than free-agent-to-be Anibal Sanchez, who is the same age. Advanced stats are much kinder to Greinke – his FIP and WAR numbers are typically among the top 15 in baseball – but how many years have to pass before the disconnect between his advanced stats and standard stats raises a red flag? A quick comparison to Cain and Hamels – who are both also typically in the top 15 range in FIP and WAR – makes you wonder whether Greinke really belongs in that same discussion. He’s got them in Ks, but Cain and Hamels easily best him in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP. They have also been more consistent, and slightly more durable.
Am I saying I wouldn’t want Greinke on the Cubs? Absolutely not. If he wanted to sign for five years and $100 million, the Cubs would leap at that, and I’d be all for it. But eight years and $190 million? Given the performance, it’s hard to justify.
Concerns about social-anxiety issues, to the extent Greinke actually has any, are simply the final grain of rice on a scale that was already tipped far against signing him.