With Greinke, Dodgers pick wrong time to go hard line
Nearly three decades have passed since the Los Angeles Dodgers played in a World Series. Friday, at least they provided their fans with a great moment in actuarial science:
Turns out, a 36-year-old Zack Greinke is worth $31 million . . . but the 37-year-old version is not.
That's what the Dodgers communicated by offering Greinke, now 32, a five-year contract worth about $155 million, per Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. In total guarantee, the Dodgers fell $51.5 million short of the six-year, $206.5 million deal Greinke ultimately received from the Arizona Diamondbacks, as first reported by our Ken Rosenthal.
Clearly, the Dodgers wanted Greinke back. They offered him an extraordinary amount of money. But by allowing the division rival Diamondbacks to outbid them by such a wide margin — despite Arizona's drawing 20,000 fewer fans per home game this year — the Dodgers invited a fresh round of questions about the year-old Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi administration.
The same team that committed $62.5 million to Cuban infielder Hector Olivera in May — only to treat his $28 million signing bonus as a sunk cost in trading him two months later — now has drawn a hard line on a decision that won't significantly impact its payroll for another six years.
Thus, the Dodgers are certain to arrive at next week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, as the most scrutinized team in the sport.
It's unfair to say Friedman and Zaidi have returned to the small-market methodologies they practiced in Tampa Bay and Oakland. The Dodgers' payroll this year was the largest in North American pro sports history — $316.6 million, according to spotrac.com — even if former general manager Ned Colletti was responsible for most of it. Right now, the Dodgers have the largest 2016 payroll commitment of any major-league franchise.
But with Greinke, the Dodgers chose the wrong moment to exercise restraint. Large-market franchises aren't supposed to lose superstars in the way that the Dodgers lost Greinke. Now they're back in the marketplace, looking for someone exactly like the player who just left: an elite pitcher who excels in large markets and during the postseason.
The Dodgers' financial frustrations — to the extent that they have any — have resulted from mediocre and/or injury-prone players being paid like stars. Greinke, though, is a superstar whose performance and paychecks have been commensurate with one another. Judging by ERA+, Greinke has been the majors' second-best pitcher over the past three seasons — behind his now former teammate, Clayton Kershaw.
By that measure, at least, the Dodgers are destined to replace Greinke with an inferior pitcher — even if it's by a narrow margin. Johnny Cueto, who ranked third behind Kershaw and Greinke in ERA+, is a free agent and among the possible additions. But now the representatives for Cueto and other free-agent starters are in position to take advantage of the Dodgers' apparent desperation.
Without Greinke the Dodgers have only two pitchers, Kershaw and Brett Anderson, who started in October's playoff series against the New York Mets, and 2016 will represent Anderson's bid for a second consecutive healthy season — something he's never done in the major leagues.
And it's not as if Greinke's departure is the only issue before Friedman and Zaidi at this crucial juncture of their tenures in L.A. They need a starting second baseman. They need a setup reliever, possibly two. They need an answer on what to do with Yasiel Puig, whom they probably should have traded several months or one year ago.
Friday, the Dodgers' dilemma became more vexing, for a reason no one saw coming: They didn't offer enough money.