Washington Nationals 2013 Off-Season Targets: Zack Greinke

Everyone knows the story of Zack Greinke and the Nationals. Around about the 2011 off-season Mike Rizzo had a deal worked out or close with Dayton Moore and the Roayls to acquire Greinke for Espinosa, Zimmermann, Storen, and Norris. Greinke ended up using his no trade clause because he wanted to go to a team closer to winning. Greinke ended up pitching for the Brewers in 2011 and 2012 going to the NLCS in 2011 before being traded at the deadline to the Angels in 2012. 

The Nationals did try and pay Greinke to waive his no trade clause. The deal was reported to be between $80-90 million and for around six years. The deal Greinke gets this off-season should be higher than that. This is a 29 year old who has pitched over 200 innings in four of the past five seasons and pitched 171 2/3 innings in that one season. Years ago Greinke struggled with depression and anxiety issues, but those are a thing of the past and he has been nothing but productive in recent seasons.

The question of how much money Greinke will get is an important one and if I had to guess I would say around 6 or 7 years at $120 million. Greinke is as good if not better than Cliff Lee and both followed a similar career path with early struggles and then learning how to pitch, and both have won AL Cy Young awards before being traded to an NL team and then back to the AL. Unlike Lee, Greinke has only had one shot at the post-season and most remember that one as failure due to the Brewers only making it to the NLCS.

Some in baseball may even view Greinke as being closer to CJ Wilson than Cliff Lee and this could affect the dollar figures and years he should get. Greinke is two years younger than Wilson was last off-season and has been a high level performer for longer than Wilson before he hit free agency, but some teams are always weary of giving out long term deals to pitchers. It still stands to reason that Greinke will draw enough interest from enough teams to push his contract closer to Cliff Lee than to that of CJ Wilson's, but neither should be surprising.

When it comes to the Washington Nationals where Greinke fits in the rotation should not be a concern. Pitchers like Greinke are league Aces and he would be an Ace if he slotted in at 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 in a rotation. Greinke is one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball and has seen his ERA suffer due to having bad defenses behind him. In three of the past four seasons Greinke's ERA has been significantly higher than his FIP, and the one season it wasn't he won the AL Cy Young. Greinke's career K/9 of 8.03 is on par with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Zack Greinke would make an already high strikeout rotation even more dangerous, and with the defense of Zimmerman, Desmond, and Espinosa behind him his ERA and FIP should be closer than in recent seasons.

The Nationals have $52,109,000 commited for 2013 before having to pay arbitration players like Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Craig Stammen. Those four players should see healthy raises if not long term extensions. The Nationals payroll was just over $92 million this past season and with no further moves would approach that again. At a seven year $120 million deal Greinke would add roughly $17 million to the payroll, but even at $92 million the Nationals payroll was the lowest in the NL East in 2012. The Mets and Marlins will be looking to cut back for 2013, but with the Nationals having drawn an average of 30,000 fans and with the MASN money coming at some point the Nationals are in a good position to expand the payroll.

With attendance expected to increase further in 2013 and to continue to do so as long as the Nationals keep winning now it is doubtful that a contract to Greinke would stop the Nationals from keeping any of their own players especially since it would be a back loaded deal and any deal they sign for Strasburg or Harper would be backloaded as well. The years when Greinke will be at his most expensive would be the same years Strasburg and Harper would be at their relative cheapest in any deal signed with them.

The Nationals can afford Greinke. So what would he add to the team. The biggest thing is consistency. The Nationals were lucky when it came to injuries to the starting staff this season. They used eight starting pitchers all season and not once was it because of injury. Wang got hurt in Spring Training, but Detwiler was more than ready to step in and fill that roll. Once the season started the Nationals used Wang to see what he had when Detwiler struggled, Lannan due to double headers and the Strasburg shutdown, and Gorzelanny in order to rest Gio for the post-season. Other than that the Nationals ran with the same five all season long.

The Nationals will be losing a big part of that this off-season as Edwin Jackson will be a free agent. Jackson was his inconsistent self looking dominant in one outing and extremely hittable the next, but he did pitch the third most innings on the team. But between the Strasburg shutdown and Davey being extremely careful with his young starters the Nationals had no 200 inning pitchers on the team. Zack Greinke is able to do that, but not only that. He is able to pitch those 200 innings at a highly competitive level.

In 2012 Greinke averaged 6.23 innings a start while the Nationals rotation average 5.88. Getting more innings from starting pitchers should be a top priority of the Nationals. It should happen naturally as Davey should be less careful with a more mature Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez and Strasburg will be under a much milder innings limit like Jordan Zimmermann was this past season. The Nationals should see some natural increase in innings per start, but adding Zack Greinke would do nothing but help that. 

As far as what Greinke would add in wins consider that since he became a full time starter in 2008 he has averaged 5.7 fWAR. In 2012 the Nationals got 2.7 fWAR from Edwin Jackson. So, and average season from Zack Greinke would add roughly three wins to the Nationals. Not only that it would give them one of the most dominant strikeout rotations ever put on the diamond and insulate them from any injuries that may be suffered by the starting staff. Many Nationals fans already consider this a team with two Aces in Strasburg and Gonzalez, but three is better than two, and pitchers as good as Zack Greinke rarely hit the free agent market at the same time as a team built with tons of young talent is just starting the rise in their win cycle.

Mike Rizzo has long coveted Zack Greinke, and while Greinke didn't feel the time was right in 2011 for the Nationals. Look at what they accomplished in 2012 and imagine if they had a pitcher as good as Zack Greinke in the middle of that rotation as the window of opportunity for winning it all is just starting to open. There may not be a better fit for a free agent and a team than Zack Greinke and the Nationals.     


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