The Diamondbacks shocked the world on Friday night when the club signed ace Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206 million contract. The average annual value of $34.3 million is the highest in baseball history. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that $60 million of that $206 million will be deferred, paid out over five years following the end of the contract. The present-day value of that contract comes out to about $190 million as a result.
Greinke represents the Diamondbacks’ biggest free agent signing – certainly in terms of total money – since inking Hall of Famer Randy Johnson nearly 17 years ago. Greinke finished as a runner up to Jake Arrieta in National League Cy Young voting for his performance this past season, as he went 19-3 with a major league-best 1.66 ERA and 0.844 WHIP as well as a 200/40 K/BB ratio over 222 2/3 innings. Over the last three seasons, Greinke has an aggregate 2.30 ERA while winning over 77 percent of his starts.
The six-year deal will take Greinke through his age-37 season. Unlike his contract with the Dodgers, his pact with the D-Backs does not include an opt-out clause.
Greinke will lead an otherwise young starting rotation in Arizona. The D-Backs, however, remain vigilant, as they have still been linked to free agent starter Mike Leake, Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, and Braves starter Shelby Miller. Given that the D-Backs finished a mere four games under .500 in 2015, one wonders if the addition of Greinke – which forces the club to forfeit its first-round draft pick – will prompt the club to make a hefty commitment to competing in 2016. Adding another starter and a position player could make the D-Backs favorites in the NL West.
Fantasy owners looking to snap up Greinke in the first round shouldn’t be deterred by his move from the pitcher-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium to the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field. Home runs have never been much of an issue for Greinke no matter where he’s pitched. Furthermore, his ground ball rate has hovered near 50 percent in recent years while averaging around a 10 percent infield fly ball rate. That plays in any ballpark.
Though it may seem obvious, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect Greinke to reprise his 1.66 ERA performance in 2016. He benefited from a .229 batting average on balls in play during the 2015 season. Pitchers have only a small degree of control over their BABIP, so it tends to hover near .300 over larger samples containing multiple seasons. His career average is .298; it was .311 in 2014 and .276 in ’13. Also contributing to Greinke’s incredibly low ERA was a high strand rate. He pitched quite well with runners on base, but a large portion of that success likely has to do with nothing more than sequencing. A good way to visualize the effect of sequencing is to consider the run-scoring probability of a single followed by a double as opposed to a double followed by a single. While Greinke likely deserves much higher-than-average credit for his 1.66 ERA, it’s realistic to expect him to finish around 2.50 next season.
Giants Sign Samardzija to Five-Year Deal
Adding to the run on free agent starting pitchers, the Giants and right-hander Jeff Samardzija agreed on a five-year, $90 million contract on Saturday afternoon. The Giants reportedly had shown interest in Zack Greinke and decided to act quickly once he was off the board. Samardzija will slot behind Madison Bumgarner in the Giants’ rotation along with Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, and Chris Heston.
Samardzija, who turns 31 in January, is coming off of an incredibly tough year with the White Sox. He went 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA, a 1.294 WHIP and a 163/49 K/BB ratio in 214 innings. He led the majors, allowing 228 hits and 118 earned runs, and led the American League in serving up 29 home runs. Compared to Samardzija’s 2014 effort, which marked a career year as a starter, his strikeout rate fell by 5 percent, his walk rate jumped up half a percentage point, and he induced about 11 percent fewer ground balls. Samardzija has been inconsistent, but an ERA approaching 5.00 was out of character.
The Giants, clearly, are betting that his 2015 performance was a mere fluke. Furthermore, they’re hopeful that the change in parks and defenses will help his numbers. The White Sox, according to FanGraphs, were baseball’s worst defensive team while the Giants were second-best behind the Royals. And San Francisco’s AT&T Park was the toughest stadium to homer in last season, according to ESPN, while U.S. Cellular Field ranked eighth.
Strikeout and walk rates, as well as batted ball profiles, are the best measures with which to predict future pitching results. While Samardzija averaged 3.3 strikeouts for every one walk, which is solid, his sub-18 percent strikeout rate and sub-40 percent ground ball rate are not emblematic of an elite starter. The change in parks and defenses will certainly help, but Samardzija will need to need to help himself as well if he is to return to his 2014 level of success.
Cubs Ink Lackey for Two Years
The Cubs bolstered their starting rotation on Friday, inking John Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal. Lackey had rejected the Cardinals $15.8 million qualifying offer, which means the Cubs forfeit their first-round pick for signing him. However, this will be balanced out as the Cubs will receive a compensatory pick when outfielder Dexter Fowler signs elsewhere.
Lackey, 37, quietly turned in an outstanding 2015 campaign for the Cardinals, finishing with a 2.77 ERA and a 175/53 K/BB ratio over 218 innings. The right-hander floundered in his first two years with the Red Sox before missing the entire 2012 season. He rebounded with a 3.52 ERA over 29 starts in ’13 and a 3.82 ERA in 31 starts in ’14. Lackey’s performance with the Cardinals was just the continuation of his late-career revival.
Lackey joins a rotation that includes defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta as well as veteran lefty Jon Lester and mid-rotation right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. The Cubs’ signing of Lackey will likely prove savvy as they only had to commit two years rather than three, which is important considering his age. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that a rival GM praised the Cubs’ signing of Lackey, calling it “real good, especially compared to some of the others.”
Athletics and Madson Agree to Three-Year Pact
Reliever Ryan Madson was out of baseball for three seasons following the end of the 2011 playoffs. The right-hander batted arm injury after arm injury, which forced him to settle for a minor league contract with the Royals back in January. He turned out to be a critical member of the bullpen, compiling a 2.13 ERA with a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.
Madson, 35, used his bounce-back season to negotiate a three-year, $22 million deal with the Athletics on Sunday. Given his age and injury history, it is shocking that a team was willing to guarantee three years, but the Athletics – who acquired Liam Hendriks from the Blue Jays last month – seem committed to bolstering the bullpen. The club now has a fearsome late-inning trio as Madson and Hendriks will handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of closer Sean Doolittle.
Madson has the peripherals of an elite reliever. Last season, he struck out over 23 percent of batters while walking fewer than six percent of them, and inducing ground balls at a 55 percent clip. The degree to which he succeeded in 2015 wasn’t unprecedented, either. In his final two years with the Phillies in 2010 and ’11, he posted a 2.55 and 2.37 ERA, respectively. Madson won’t have much fantasy value to open the season, but he could get the first crack at closing out games in the event Doolittle suffers another injury, so he’s worth at least keeping tabs on throughout the upcoming season.
Quick Hits: The Dodgers and starter Hisashi Iwakuma agreed to a three-year deal on Sunday… The Orioles reportedly reached an agreement with reliever Darren O’Day on a four-year, $31 million contract on Sunday, but O’Day tweeted that the report was “premature” … Free agent pitcher Chris Young and the Royals are close on a two-year deal worth around $10-12 million … The Nationals are expected to shop reliever Drew Storen at the Winter Meetings … Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall said that outfielder A.J. Pollock is “almost untouchable” in trade talks … The Marlins have received a few calls on starter Jose Fernandez but reportedly have “no intention” to trade him … Reds first baseman Joey Votto isn’t interested in waiving his no-trade clause … Free agent and super utility man Ben Zobrist is drawing interest from six teams, including the Mets … The Diamondbacks are reportedly still interested in free agent starter Mike Leake … The Twins, Cubs, and Padres have shown interest in free agent reliever Fernando Rodney … The Astros could pursue trading lefty starter Brett Oberholtzer … The Blue Jays re-signed catcher Josh Thole to a one-year deal worth $800,000 on Friday after having non-tendered him … The Nationals signed reliever Oliver Perez to a two-year, $7 million deal on Friday … The Marlins officially hired Barry Bonds as a hitting coach on Friday … The Tigers and starter Mike Pelfrey agreed on a two-year, $16 million contract on Friday … The Dodgers signed second baseman Chase Utley to a one-year, $7 million contract on Sunday … The Tigers signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a one-year deal for the major league minimum on Sunday … The Red Sox are drawing trade interest in starters Wade Miley and Joe Kelly … The Reds are reportedly willing to trade everyone, including closer Aroldis Chapman, third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielder Jay Bruce, and second baseman Brandon Phillips … The Tigers are close to completing a two-year contract with reliever Mark Lowe, according to a report ... Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon has filed a grievance against the team for failing to pay him during his team-issued four-game suspension at the end of the 2015 regular season.