Zack Greinke Reverberations and Madness

Zack Greinke has reportedly agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a 6-year, $147 million contract. Let’s look at the reality and reactions.

The money

For those looking at the Greinke money, comparing him to pitchers from years past and wondering what they would’ve earned had they entered free agency at the same age as Greinke, it’s a stupid question and argument. What would Sandy Koufax get? What would Pedro Martinez get? What would Greg Maddux get? What would Randy Johnson get?

Does it matter? Had they been free agents at age 29 in 2012, they would’ve gotten more money than Greinke. But they’re not. So it’s meaningless speculation.

Then there are the complaints that it’s “too much” money—not in context of pitchers who were better than Greinke, but in context, period.

The pitchers listed above weren’t available. As for the contract itself, how is “enough” quantified? Would $120 million be acceptable? Why is $147 million “too much” and what amount is “just right?”

Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, found a team willing to pay him, and he got the most money. If and when Justin Verlander is a free agent (and he probably won’t be), he’ll set the market. That’s capitalism. That’s baseball.

The media

Joel Sherman exemplifies the half-wit media by saying the following on Twitter:

I know timing/supply-demand determine $, but if you had to pick 10 SP to win game for your life, would Greinke even be in the 10?

First he says essentially the same thing I said and made perfect sense in saying it regarding supply and demand. Then he ruins it by making a ridiculous assertion about a “game for your life” that there’s no way to prove its veracity one way or the other until after the fact. Greinke pitched poorly in his one post-season chance, but he was no Kenny Rogers—a thoroughly overmatched, frightened, and non-competitive performer for both the Yankees and Mets who no one could’ve thought he’d turn in the masterful work he provided in the 2006 playoffs and World Series when he was all but unhittable.

Was Dave Stewart a post-season ace before he became one? Was Curt Schilling?

You don’t know until you know. It’s not as if Greinke is tricking people with a pitch that could abandon him at any moment. Like the aforementioned Johnson and Martinez, they know what’s coming and can’t hit it.

This type of “analysis” is a desperate search to be contrary and not based on fact at all.

For the rest of baseball

The “haves and have nots” argument no longer applies as teams like the Athletics and Rays have shown the way of keeping their players or trading them away at their high value to maintain realistic cost while contending. The idea that Billy Beane’s strategies stopped working is accurate. Other teams caught onto what he was doing, souped it up and spent money for the undervalued assets he was able to get on the cheap before. The Rays adapted and overtook the A’s as the team that maximized what they had and could afford with new data and not the old “on base percentage as the Holy Grail” and “counting cards in the draft” idiocy.

The big money clubs who’ve spent wildly haven’t distinguished themselves with annual championships; in fact, many of the clubs have turned into overpriced embarrassments who, like the Yankees, are paring down to avoid luxury tax penalties and are rapidly heading toward a collapse because they tried to copy the Rays and even the Red Sox in development and failed miserably. The Red Sox, Angels, Marlins, and Phillies spent madly in the last several years and the results varied from disastrous to mediocre.

Teams that want to prevent Greinke-like contracts have to take the risk and do what the Rays have done with Evan Longoria, the Pirates have done with Andrew McCutchen, and the Rays and Mets have done with Matt Moore and Jonathon Niese—sign them early and hope they make it worth the team’s while to do it.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers spending spree doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win in and of itself, but they do have some semblance of continuity backed up by the new money their ownership is spreading around, much to the anger and chagrin of all observers due to jealousy or the simple desire to complain.

It made no sense to pay $2 billion and then try to create a winner with an $80 million payroll and prove how much smarter their baseball people are than everyone else. It made no sense to hire Stan Kasten as team president and have Magic Johnson as a front man and not let them do what they do the way they know how to do it.

Kasten is a professional dealmaker and, unlike Randy Levine across the country with the Yankees, isn’t despised and openly meddling with the baseball operations implying that he knows more than he does (and Kasten is a qualified baseball man, unlike Levine). Kasten helped build the enduring Braves playoff dynasty using development and Ted Turner’s money to keep his own players, trade the minor leaguers for veterans, develop youngsters for the Braves’ use, bolster the club with Maddux-like stars, and let his GM John Schuerholz be the GM and the manager Bobby Cox be the manager.

He’s repeating the process with the Dodgers, Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.

Comparisons to the aforementioned clubs that spent insanely is not accurate as a “that didn’t work, so neither will what the Dodgers are doing.” The Dodgers spent a ton of money and are asking their manager Mattingly, “What do you need?” whereas the Angels, with a new GM Jerry Dipoto who didn’t hire Mike Scioscia had different theories on how a team should be run; the owner Arte Moreno betrayed what it was that made the Angels a beacon of how to put a club together as he spent on players who simply didn’t fit and created a glut and altered identity, leading to the image of dysfunction and disarray.

The Red Sox made a mess in 2011, compounded that mess in 2012, and are getting back to their roots with questionable decisions currently being made by Ben Cherington when the jury is still out on whether he’s one of those executives who was better off as an assistant.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has the countenance and behavior of a character straight out of a Dickens story with barely concealed greed and unrepentant evil, while Magic is the charming frontman to bring the fans in and impress the players with his star power.

Star power.

Magic was a Lakers star with a star coach Pat Riley and a glittery style that inspired the moniker “Showtime.” It wasn’t just a show. The Lakers were a great team with star talent surrounding Magic in the form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, underappreciated stars like James Worthy, and gritty tough guys like Kurt Rambis. Magic is the epitome of cool who knows everyone, gets invited to every party, has access to all the trappings of Los Angeles with the age and wisdom to advise players what and whom to avoid. He’s got an eye not just on winning, but winning in the Hollywood fashion with stars and style. He’ll fill Dodger Stadium and make it the cool place to go again; he’ll recruit the players; he’ll represent the team to make everyone money; and he won’t overstep his bounds into the baseball ops.

They didn’t buy it as an investment to flip in a few years; they bought it to turn it into a greater financial powerhouse and increase its value. That’s what they’re doing and Greinke is a cog in that machine to achieve the end.

And for Greinke

No one will ever know whether Greinke, whose past emotional problems are given far too much weight considering they six years ago and haven’t cropped up since, could’ve dealt with New York, Boston or Philadelphia.

Going to the East Coast with the pressures and expectations inherent with the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies wasn’t a good fit. But the Angels weren’t matching the Dodgers’ cash and the Rangers were the main competition for the pitcher’s services and were a winning, positive locale for him and his former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader wife. But they were outbid and have other, more reasonably priced options via trade.

That left the Dodgers. It’s a laid back atmosphere as a matter of course; they already have an ace in Clayton Kershaw so the pressure won’t be as great for Greinke to win 25 games; and no one will bother him as they would in New York, Boston, or Philly.

He got his money; he’s a great pitcher; and will continue to be a great pitcher for a Dodgers team that is a legitimate championship contender.

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  1. #1 by Todd Boss on December 9, 2012 - 9:02 pm

    All in all, I agree with most of your Greinke specific commentary here. But I wanted to talk about the commentary about payroll not necessarily leading to championships.

    In modern baseball, I don’t think you can look at just World Series victories versus payroll levels to determine “success” or “failure” of big market teams. That’s because in arguably the baseball playoffs have turned into a complete crap-shoot every year (just as Billy Beane has said). Only a handful of times in the last 20 years has the team with the best regular season record also won the WS title (in fact; it has happened exactly three times since 1990; Yankees in 98, Red Sox in 07 and Yankees again in 08). The wild card has allowed in teams who have gotten hot at the right time and beaten down what would have been pennant winners many, many times over.

    So for me, I think you have to look more generally at playoff apperances versus payroll if you’re talking about the general question, “does a bigger payroll lead to more success.” And for me, the answer is inarguably yes. I did a quick calculation of the top 10/middle 10/bottom 10 payroll teams in 2012 and counted the number of playoff appearances in the last 3 and last 5 years:

    top10: 15 apperances last three years, 24 in last five years.
    mid10: 7 and 12
    bot10: 4 and 6
    total playoff slots available: 26 in last three years, 42 in last five years.

    In other words, 15 of the 26 playoff spots went to teams in the top10 in payroll over the last three years. Only 4 playoff teams appeared in the bottom 10 in payroll in the last 3 years (Tampa twice, Oakland this year, Arizona last year), and only 6 in last 5 years (Tampa three times, Oakland, Arizona, Colorado).

    So for me, it is CLEAR that more payroll means more playoff appearances. How else can you correlate the fact that the Yankees have had the largest payroll for 15 years running and made the playoffs in 14 of those 15 years?

    In fact, this analysis is rather rough; it assumes that someone in the top10 in 2012 was always the case. If I were to re-run this on a year-to-year basis, the numbers would look even worse because Miami counts as a top10 payroll in 2012 but absolutely has not been over the previous four years. Not coincidentally, Miami is the only team in the 2012 top10 payroll not to have made MULTIPLE playoff appearances in the past 5 years. Boston and Los Angeles may be on down cycles, but they’ve still made playoff runs recently.

    For me, clearly Tampa and Oakland’s successes are the exception and not the rule. If you want to guarantee the playoffs year after year, you basically need to spend a ton of money and have just a marginally competent front office.

    • #2 by admin on December 10, 2012 - 12:20 am

      You’re kinda missing the point. Of course having a higher payroll provides more of a “guarantee” that a team is going to have a better shot at the playoffs than hoping for the magic that happened to the A’s this year and even the Orioles. I don’t believe in the simplistic “crapshoot” theory that Beane used as an excuse of his team continually losing in the playoffs. What I believe more than the crapshoot theory and the money=contention argument is that every situation is different. A team like the Marlins was a patched together group that didn’t know each other, was essentially leaderless, and didn’t like each other all that much. The Angels were an example of forcing pieces that didn’t fit into Mike Scioscia’s jigsaw puzzle (and they’re still doing it and kept Scioscia as manager—a mistake. The Tigers spent and were pretty lucky that they rest of the AL Central was mediocre-to-bad.
      I don’t doubt the numbers on a factual basis, but they’re out of context and need to be examined as individual situations.
      The best advantage for a team that has had the money the Yankees have had at their disposal isn’t simply buying players, but buying other players to replace the players they bought previously that didn’t work. The Rays were hamstrung by overspending on Pat Burrell and Carlos Pena, but couldn’t do what the Yankees could and patch an $8 million player with another $8 million player. That may in fact be more important than the bottom line payroll.

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