Wednesday, November 28, 2012
You pick: Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton?
By Richard Durrett
What if the Texas Rangers' big-ticket offseason choices came down to Zack Greinke or Josh Hamilton?
We know the Rangers need another starter, preferably one who can pitch in the top tier of the rotation. But the Rangers also have had the luxury of Hamilton hitting in the 3-hole for five years, bashing homers and producing runs at an impressive rate despite going through ups and downs at the plate.
This is hypothetical at this point, but the Rangers have interest in Greinke and Hamilton. And they won't wait for Hamilton to decide before pursuing offseason needs. Starting pitching is a big offseason need.
There was a bit of Greinke news Tuesday to heat the Hot Stove ovens. Buster Olney tweeted that one person involved in the talks thinks Greinke could get a deal north of CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million contract. Wow. CBSSports.com reported that the Los Angeles Angels won't be involved in Greinke with the price apparently so high.
There's something familiar about the Angels "backing off" on Greinke. We read those stories last winter, such as this one in the Los Angeles Times with the headline: "Angels don't look like big-ticket spenders." Of course, a month later they signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million deal after quietly making it appear they weren't involved. The Angels need pitching and Greinke is the best available free agent out there. I just can't believe they'd give up completely on him with that rotation in need of top-end help.
But let's say the price is getting high enough that potential bidders are having second thoughts. What if the Los Angeles Dodgers, considered by many to be the favorites to land Greinke, decide that they can't go too high for fear that they'd be paying even more for Clayton Kershaw in a few years when it's his turn for the big money? That leaves Texas in an interesting position.
We've talked this offseason about the club's need for a starting pitcher to go with the current four-man rotation led by Yu Darvish. That staff also includes (at this point): Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. The Rangers could use a starting pitcher who has impact -- someone who can go near the top of the rotation with Darvish, not just someone to fill out the fifth spot.
Greinke fits that bill. He was 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts for the Angels after the trade deadline deal. He was 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts (123 innings) for the Milwaukee Brewers before that. If you drill down to his final eight starts of 2012, he heads to the open market on a roll, going 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA with seven quality starts in that string (the only start that wasn't a quality one was against the Rangers on Sept. 30, but the Angels got the come-from-behind win).
The 29-year-old has pitched at least 200 innings in four of his past five seasons, which included a Cy Young season in 2009. He has pitched well at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in his career, putting up a 2.84 ERA in 79 1/3 innings (14 games, 12 of them starts) and has a 2.91 ERA against the AL West, his best mark against any division. Off the field, he has dealt with social anxiety issues and depression, but it has been six years since that was a problem.
He's got the track record to be a solid starter and he's at an age where you'd consider investing more years than normal. He turned 29 in October and is durable. What is it going to take to sign him? There has been talk about that six-year, $144 million deal that Cole Hamels received, but as Olney indicated in his tweet, the price might be even higher.
If the Rangers decide to break the bank for Greinke, it probably means the end of the Hamilton era in Texas, assuming the market goes up for Hamilton (I still think somebody out there is going to give Hamilton five guaranteed years ... after all, Prince Fielder got nine years and that deal didn't go down until the end of January last year).
If I had to choose, I'd take Greinke. And that really doesn't have much to do with Hamilton's final few weeks. I know the offense as a whole struggled as the season ended. It was a tired team and they didn't have the kind of production expected of them. It's difficult to take Hamilton's bat out of that equation. But I do think Dave Magadan will help this club and it remains a potent lineup, even without Hamilton in it. The Rangers' front office has shown an ability to make key trades to bolster parts of the club. If much of the free-agent money is spent on Greinke, perhaps the Rangers can use prospects as currency and find workable deals to at least help fill part of the offensive void left by Hamilton's departure.
But this club needs another starting pitcher. In crunch time and in the postseason, that's how you win. Imagine how much stronger this team would be as a whole with Greinke and Darvish at the top of the rotation and an emerging pitcher such as Harrison at the No. 3 spot. Plus, the Rangers would be taking a critical rotation piece away from one of the club's chief division and league rivals.
So whom would you choose: Greinke or Hamilton? How many years and how much money are you willing to shell out to Greinke or Hamilton, depending on your choice?