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San Francisco Giants Hot Stove: Is Zack Greinke worth $1 million per start?

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The value of the pitcher has gone up as teams look to snatch up whatever aces that are left in the game of baseball. The San Francisco Giants have the rare opportunity to employ two. But is the value really there?

Zack Greinke is a true ace in every sense of the word. He is a guy that will give you over thirty starts a year. He is an amazing strike thrower who keeps the ball down and has learned how to miss bats. His fastball sits in the low to mid-nineties. And he has had an ERA below three for the last three seasons.

The Giants have an ace in Madison Bumgarner, and then a collection of starters who would most likely be seen as mid-rotation arms. Jake Peavy showed pretty decent effectiveness when he was healthy last year, going 8-6 with a 3.58 ERA. But he is more of a three at this point. Matt Cain and Chris Heston are both question marks based on health and inexperience.

Mike Leake, a current free agent himself, was part of the mix late last year. He proved to be a competitor, even if the numbers didn’t quite reflect it. Leake is currently seeking a deal that is believed to be in the $15 million dollar range. That is not a bad value, but the amount of years desired could change that.

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David Price just signed a seven-year deal worth $217 million dollars, which will take him into his mid-thirties. Not a bad value when you look at the contracts that are being given out, but probably an overpay for the Boston Red Sox. But they were willing to go wherever they needed to financially to give David Ortiz one more shot at another ring.

Which brings us all back to Greinke.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, with all of their marquee talent, and the money to bring in more, are currently battling with the Giants over Greinke’s future services. If Greinke was a Giant last year going into his option year, would he have made it to free agency?

It makes you wonder if the player who opts out is doing it for financial reasons, or if he wants to take a look at the direction of the club before making a decision. Hunter Pence signed his extension the final week of the regular season in 2013. Tim Lincecum signed his last contract a few weeks later. Both players knew what the team was, and the team wanted them. So they worked it out.

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As for Greinke, it seems like the dollar amount couldn’t have been the main issue. Of course the Dodgers aren’t going to pay him $50 million per season, but the players generally know what their market value is. The agents get paid mainly to increase that value, and they don’t only do it when you’re a free agent. Greinke had to have other reasons.

So with the Giants in need of a top-flight starter, and Greinke weighing his options, would he be worth $1 million per start? Because that is what you are paying for. Approximately thirty starts per year, you do the math.

If Greinke is looking for a five-year deal, $30 million is not a bad value. The shorter the contract on a starter, the better. The agent will generally try to get the most years out of a deal since the only thing that is worse than a struggling high-priced starter is an injured one.

The Giants and Dodgers learned that first-hand when the Giants chose to sign Barry Zito in 2007, and let Schmidt walk. The Giants signed Zito to a seven-year deal worth $126 million with a $7 million buyout. So the team ended up paying $19 million per year for Zito. The Dodgers signed Schmidt to a three-year deal worth $74 million. So he made $24.6 million per year. He started only ten games in the three years and ended up retiring because of his injured shoulder.

So the Dodgers ended up paying higher per year, but kept the contract shorter. Still, the Dodgers got absolutely no value out of that contract. The Giants got some value out of the Zito contract as he was decent in 2007 and 2009. And was very good in 2012 at 15-8 during the regular season, and excellent against the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers in the postseason. Again, not great. But he left with everyone smiling, so it’s okay.

So now the team has a similar decision to make.

At $30 million per season, again that’s $1 million per start, how many wins are expected each year? Twenty? Sixteen?

Let’s meet in the middle and say eighteen. If Greinke wins an average of eighteen games per year, that would give him ninety wins in a Giants uniform. With that number he would be at 232 wins, be in the talk for the Hall of Fame, and if elected, go in as a Giant since he won his most games in that uniform.

Great scenario, but what if there was an extra year added to that contract, and it’s six years. Now the value rests in the longevity of a human arm throwing a ball in an unnatural motion. And for all our capabilities as humans, we can guarantee our health. We can place a man on the moon, but can’t guarantee a starter will make his next turn.

If Greinke were to sign for six years at the same value yearly, he would need to get to one-hundred wins in a Giants uniform for it to make sense. That averages out to about sixteen wins per season. Not totally out of reach.

Then again, the value could be entirely tied to championships as well. Obviously, winning the title is the ultimate goal. And the wins in the postseason do hold more water in the legacy of the player. Names like Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro, and Michael Morse will always be a part of Giants lore, so the postseason success, and being a part of that is important to value as well.

April 13, 2015 San Francisco, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (left) manager Bruce Bochy (center) and catcher Buster Posey (right) carry the World Series trophies from the 2010, 2012 and 2014 seasons before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Chiu-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Price signing with the Red Sox could turn out to be a really good thing for the Giants. He’s not in the NL West, and his numbers up to this point have been eerily similar to Zito’s just before he signed with the Giants. All things considered, would the team have done the Zito deal again? Major gamble at $30 million per year, and by the way, how much is Bumgarner going to get when he comes up for free agency?

Luckily, the team has him signed through 2019, at $12 million per year the last two years which are team options. What a deal huh?

The Giants would be taking a minor gamble at this point if they were to sign Greinke, and one that is worth taking. The team would be taking an arm away from a team that had success with him there, even with all of the personalities that he has played with. He has shown that he has reached the second stage of his career. Meaning he has learned out to pitch, and throw pitches with a purpose.

Jul 26, 2015; Cooperstown, NY, USA; The 4 Hall of Fame plagues of Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz installed and available for viewing in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The team that signs him will likely get three very good years, two above average years, and if a six year is signed, another slightly above average year. But with those numbers, the team also would be the cap that is worn if the Hall of Fame votes go his way. Just as Randy Johnson is wearing the Arizona Diamondbacks hat on his plaque.

The Giants are well within a window of opportunity, and are doing a good job of keeping that window open. The team would lose it’s first-round draft pick if they do make the deal, but the money part is irrelevant.

Supply and demand drive costs up or down. A shortage of pitching puts these guys at a premium. And if it costs a bit more to strengthen your own team, while pulling out at least one rug from under your rivals, the value seems to be there.

Next: Giants Sign Grant Green

Even at $1 million per start.

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