If you think Zack Greinke just signed a big free-agent contract, wait three years.
He might get an even bigger deal then.
Greinke’s six-year, $147 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers includes an opt-out clause that enables him to return to the open market midway through the agreement, major-league sources say.
Talk about perfect timing: By the time Greinke is eligible for his second round of free agency, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander already will have signed new deals, further inflating the price for starting pitching.
Greinke’s new $24.5 million average salary is a record for a pitcher on a multi-year contract. Kershaw, Hernandez and Verlander are virtually certain to push the standard into the $30 million range.
OK, so let’s do the math: Greinke, 29, will earn $76 million in the first three years of his deal with the Dodgers; the deal is front-loaded, with the final three years valued at $71 million.
Assuming Greinke pitches well enough to justify opting out, he might merit, at minimum, a new five-year, $140 million contract, either with the Dodgers or some other club.
Put the two deals together, and the final tally is breathtaking:
Eight years, $216 million.
You might ask, why the heck did the Dodgers agree to the opt-out? Such clauses never work to a club’s benefit. When a pitcher does well, he wields his leverage. When a pitcher struggles — or gets hurt — he sticks the club for the rest of the tab.
Well, Greinke initially wanted a seven-year deal, according to a source. He also wanted a no-trade clause. The Dodgers didn’t want to go seven years. Their club president, Stan Kasten, does not award no-trade clauses. So, the opt-out was something of a compromise — as was another provision that allows Greinke a separate opt-out at the end of any year in which he is traded.
The worst-case scenario for the Dodgers is that Greinke will pitch poorly and collect his $147 million. Club officials certainly will not complain if he pitches well in his age 29, 30 and 31 seasons, then signs a rich extension or departs.
Listen, no one with the team will call the situation ideal. But in the end, the Dodgers got the player, and that’s all that matters for a team with seemingly limitless resources — particularly when there are no sure things among next year’s free-agent starting pitchers.
The Yankees took the same approach when they signed CC Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million free-agent contract after the 2008 season. Sabathia negotiated the same three-year escape in that deal, and the Yankees had to award him a one-year, $30 million extension after he opted out.
Most in baseball don’t perceive Greinke to be as dominant a pitcher as Sabathia, but here’s something you probably don’t know: The two produced almost the exact same numbers in their final five years before free agency:
Sabathia: 74-48, 158 starts, 3.40 ERA.
Greinke: 70-43, 160 starts, 3.39 ERA.
Both pitchers won Cy Young awards pitching for low-revenue teams (Sabathia with Cleveland, Greinke with Kansas City). And Sabathia, since joining the Yankees, has pitched even better than he did in Cleveland, in part because he has played for better teams.
Greinke, in theory, should benefit from the same bounce with the Dodgers, a team that is getting better (and more expensive) by the day. But if the Dodgers somehow falter, then move in another direction, Greinke will be protected — he can always opt out.
It’s a great deal for Greinke, all right. In every conceivable way.