Twitter GMs, armchair scouts and amateur experts are bad enough when they’re talking about players’ on field performances and regurgitating stuff in authoritative tones as if they understand it, but with Zack Greinke it’s expanded from self-aggrandizing analysis of his performance to pop psychology and the factoid that because Greinke had depression in 2006, he’s still unfit to pitch in a high-pressure atmosphere.
The term used to diagnose Greinke was “social anxiety disorder”. Greinke had to leave baseball for awhile to get his life and mental state in back together. He did that, returned and eventually became one of the best pitchers in baseball and a Cy Young Award winner.
The “why” is as irrelevant as the fact that he was once depressed and unable to perform. It was six years ago. Put yourself in his position. Drafted out of high school with the 6th pick in the draft and joining the perennial doormat Royals whose future hopes hinged on his development, he was in the big leagues two years later before he was ready. Oh, he pitched well enough as a 20-year-old rookie in 2004 with an 8-11 record and solid across-the-board numbers for a dreadful team that lost 104 games, but he wasn’t emotionally ready at that age for the scrutiny and expectations surrounding his circumstances. Very few people would be. All the talk of “maturity beyond his years” for players like Mike Trout is fine, but 22 is 22. It’s an early age to be labeled a savior.
Greinke led the American League in losses in 2005 and missed almost the entire 2006 season with his off-field troubles. He regrouped and fulfilled his potential and more. So why is it still something brought up almost offhandedly as if the final word has been uttered because of what happened when he was 22-years-old?
According to Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin, Greinke is definitely going to be traded somewhere. The Brewers had been holding out to see where they were after the All-Star break and have come completely apart. Greinke is a free agent at the end of the season and the Brewers are a mid-market team that is willing to spend money to compete, but can’t toss $140 million at a pending free agent as the Phillies just did with Cole Hamels and simultaneously field a competitive roster to surround Greinke. Trading him makes sense. When all is said and done, the Brewers will likely have recouped what they traded away to get Greinke and more since they didn’t give up all that much to get him in the first place. That’s more of an indictment on Royals’ GM Dayton Moore than a credit-garnering device for Melvin.
Even with that there are teams that are being eliminated by the media because of a problem that existed six years ago and the set-in-stone implication that Greinke wouldn’t handle New York, Boston, Philadelphia or any other town with a heavy media contingent and demanding fanbase. The reality of that will be known within days when Greinke’s traded. The Red Sox or Yankees might roll the dice on him. The reality of the implication will be known in the next two months.
Teams can shun Greinke for legitimate reasons. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and sounds as if he’s looking forward to that process and won’t sign an extension to preclude entering the market. In a trade, he’s going to cost 2-3 top-tier prospects and there’s going to be a bidding war for him. If it happens to be true that he can’t handle the high-pressure atmosphere, the trading team will only have him for the final two months of the season and will be trading for him chasing a title. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but to steer clear because of an issue he had in 2006 and has overcome admirably is an excuse, not a reason. Saying “he can’t handle it mentally” is a copout and shouldn’t be referenced as a final barometer not to trade for a pitcher who could mean the difference between winning a World Series and not making the playoffs at all.