Dodgers’ Greinke a ‘baseball junkie’
Only Zack Greinke would ask me this question.
“If Lohse doesn’t sign before the draft, will a team still lose a pick for signing him?” he said Wednesday.
Greinke was referring, of course, to right-hander Kyle Lohse, the last prominent remaining free agent, and baseball’s amateur draft, which begins June 6.
And I was stumped.
I told Greinke I would check with the players union to see if draft-pick compensation no longer would apply to Lohse if he signed after the draft.
Sure enough, the compensation would disappear — not that it ultimately will matter. Lohse, sources say, is almost certain to sign with a team soon.
But leave it to Grienke, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new, $147 million man, to come up with his own angle on the Lohse saga.
Greinke, 29, views baseball like no other player. You see it in the way he pitches. You hear it in the way he talks.
“He’s always thinking,” said his former general manager with the Milwaukee Brewers, Doug Melvin. “He’s a baseball junkie.”
The Brewers knew that Greinke would be a goner as a free agent. But before trading him to the Los Angeles Angels last July, Melvin and his special assistant, Craig Counsell, jokingly made the pitcher a unique offer:
“Re-sign with us, and we’ll let you make our second- and third-round picks in next year’s draft.”
Inside that pitcher’s body, you see, is a scout’s mind.
Greinke went on scouting trips with Counsell last spring, checking out amateur games in Arizona. For about a month before the draft, he watched video of some of the top projected picks, Melvin said.
On draft day, Greinke was ready.
“He came in with a big piece of paper,” Melvin said. “He was sitting on the floor (in the war room) or a chair against the wall. I said, ‘Who do you like? Who do you think we should get?’ He said, ‘I really like Seager.’”
Specifically, Corey Seager of Northwest Cabarrus High in Concord, N.C., the younger brother of Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager.
Melvin continued the conversation.
“I asked, “Which pitcher do you like the best?’ ” Melvin recalled. “He said, ‘Pitching is too hard to figure out.’
“He said he liked Seager’s swing. That’s a pitcher’s mentality — looking at swings, trying to determine if they have holes, where their hands are.”
Alas, Greinke’s future team, the Dodgers, nabbed Seager with the 18th overall selection, well before the Brewers were to pick at No. 27.
“Where Milwaukee was drafting, if they had somehow gotten Seager, that would have been the steal of the draft,” Greinke said. “That’s how good I thought he was. I thought he was a top 10 talent. Not top five, but top 10.”
Greinke doesn’t claim to be a scouting expert — he recalled thinking that Prince Fielder was too big to succeed and Dustin Pedroia too small. Yet, even on his own transactions, Greinke sees the big picture.
Almost immediately after Melvin informed Greinke of his trade to the Angels, Greinke asked him, “Who did you get?” Melvin replied: Shortstop Jean Segura and right-handers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena.
Greinke said he didn’t know who those players were, but liked the deal for the Brewers after he heard more about them. He earlier had told Melvin that the team’s farm system was short on power arms, “guys who could throw 100 out of the bullpen.” And shortstops, he said, are the “hardest guys to get.”
Now Greinke is bringing his acumen to the Dodgers.
As a free agent, he took the unusual step of visiting team president Stan Kasten, general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly without bringing his agent, Casey Close.
“The conversation went three hours and could easily have gone longer,” Colletti said. “We talked about our draft — he knew Seager. We asked him to go through our lineup, and he went through all of our hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.
“I looked at Donnie, he looked at me. Zack was dead on.”
So, might Greinke scout amateurs for his new club?
“If he wants to go out, we’ll let him,” Colletti said. “And he’s welcome to watch the draft take shape.”
Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman was Greinke’s manager with the Kansas City Royals in 2008, ’09 and the first part of ’10. Prior to that, Hillman spent five years managing in Japan.
When Hillman joined the Royals, he had never seen Greinke throw in person. He knew of the pitcher’s battles with depression and social anxiety disorder. And he wanted their relationship to get off to a good start.
Rather than call Greinke into a meeting, Hillman bent down next to him as the team stretched for the first time in spring training. He said he told Greinke that he wanted to be a positive for him, not a negative, and added: “If you need something from me, I’ll leave that up to you.”
According to Hillman, Greinke immediately responded, “I won’t need anything.”
“It was a little surprising for a player to say they’re not going to need anything at all from a manager,” Hillman said. “But actually after I thought about it, I thought: ‘Well, you know what, if he needs something about his area of expertise, he’s certainly not going to go to me. He’s going to go to the pitching coach.’ His reaction, although not what you would expect as a manager, was dead on.
“I could never come up with anything Zack said that didn’t make sense. It’s just not the typical way of looking at it.”
Which makes Greinke all the more refreshing.
Once uncomfortable with reporters, he now is a terrific interview, and he was typically honest Wednesday while speaking after the first workout for the Dodgers’ pitchers and catchers.
Greinke lamented that he no longer plays much basketball after suffering a hairline fracture in one of his ribs while going for a rebound two years ago in his first spring with the Brewers.
He said he initially thought the Dodgers’ monster trade with the Boston Red Sox last August was “stupid” before correcting himself and calling it “crazy” because of the amount of salary the Dodgers absorbed.
Finally, he said that the Dodgers’ first workout — conducted by Hillman — “seemed like a lot of work … reminds me of the Royals’ days when it’s a bunch of 20-year-olds working out.”
Later, I asked Greinke about moving back to the National League from the American and the common perception that pitching in the NL is easier because of the lack of a DH.
Greinke, true to form, did not buy into that view.
He said that in the AL, pitchers focus only on pitching between innings, while in the NL, they often need to be ready to hit.
“Hitting, however little, it takes your attention away … it has to,” Greinke said.
OK, but isn’t it more difficult facing AL lineups?
“Ninety-five percent of the guys are pitchable. If you make your pitches, you’re going to be fine,” Greinke said.
“There are some guys where, honestly, it’s like stopping Kobe Bryant. You can’t completely stop ’em. You can try to limit a little bit of what they do. But they’re still going to get on.
“In the American League, facing the Tigers, facing Miguel Cabera and Prince Fielder — those guys are so good. But they’re probably the only team with two guys where you have no way of stopping both of them. If you stop both of them, you’re lucky.”
How many pitchers would admit to such a thing?
Some of the Dodgers’ starting pitchers threw bullpen sessions on Wednesday, while others did not. Greinke was in the group that did not throw. Once the bullpen sessions began, his day was over.
Only it wasn’t.
“He went, plopped down, sat and watched bullpens from the pitcher’s perspective, back behind the mound,” Hillman said.
“He wanted to watch something specific. What it was, I don’t know. But it wasn’t idle time. He might have been watching a catcher, how a guy receives. He might have been just getting his visual on where he’s going to do his ’pen tomorrow. He may already have picked out his mound.
“He’s going to invest every ounce of his energy preparing to be as good as he can possibly be, mentally and physically. That’s just the way he’s wired.”
Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009, is 91-78 lifetime with a 3.77 ERA. He is just now beginning a six-year contract, and obviously not anywhere close to the end of his career.
Still, I was curious: What did he think he would do when his playing days were over?
Well, Greinke said, it would depend upon his family; he is married to Emily Kuchar, a former high-school classmate and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. But quickly, he came up with an answer.
“If I were to guess now, the only two things I could possibly do would be to get a front-office type thing or wherever I lived, get everyone involved with AAU or a development-type thing and be in the community with baseball,” Greinke said. “So much stuff can change, but those are pretty much the only two things I would be passionate about.”
Spoken like a man who loves his sport.
Spoken like a baseball junkie.