Commentary

Greinke sets pitching market

How much does Zack Greinke want, from which team? A waiting market wonders

Updated: December 4, 2012, 11:45 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

NASHVILLE -- One of these days, in a transactions column near you, Zack Greinke will get around to picking his next employer.

It might be this week. It might be next week. It might be the Dodgers. It might be the Angels or Rangers. It might be some team no one has spent 15 seconds talking about. But it will happen. One of these days. And about two minutes after it does, the Hot Stove will light up the night, and the offseason can finally begin for the rest of the starting pitchers hanging out at the old free-agent supermarket.

But not until the big domino on the shelves, Zack Greinke, completes his journey. Whereupon all the other dominoes can begin theirs.

For now, though, Greinke's deliberate, thoughtful, painstaking trip through free agency has the winter-meetings starting-pitching market in a state of near paralysis. Not that that's Zack Greinke's problem.

"He knows he's the No. 1 guy, so why would he rush?" wondered one baseball executive who understands that Greinke isn't your typical baseball player, let alone your typical marquee free agent. "Those other dominoes, they mean nothing to him. And why should they?"

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsZack Greinke has made his pitch, now the question is which team will offer on it.
Yeah, that's a good question. Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson and the rest of this cast are only competing for the Best Supporting Actor statuette at this extravaganza. So where they land and how much they earn will be determined, to a great degree, by where and how Greinke sets this market.

So their agents roam the never-ending corridors, trails and atriums of Opryland, posing questions like: "Heard anything on Greinke?" And frankly, we're glad they ask, because here's what we've heard: Zack Greinke is doing his own thing. Just as he always does. Just as you'd think he would, at such an important time in his life.

Greinke has a veteran agent, Casey Close, laying much of this groundwork. But he will make up his mind for his own reasons, on his own schedule. If you're at all familiar with his work, we doubt that bulletin will send shock waves through your household.

"I know this about Zack," said the exec quoted earlier. "He's involved. He's very much involved. He's not a guy who's going to wake up one morning and hear Casey say, 'You know those six clubs we were talking to? Here's the one you're going to.' That's what some guys would do. But this guy will be involved every step of the way."

So this won't be just about the money. But now that we've got that inspirational truism out of the way, there is a ridiculous amount of money waiting for him at the end of this trail.

"I heard one of the Dodgers' people say this is getting so big, he's even pricing himself out of THEIR range," laughed one AL exec.

"I'm not sure it'll all fit in a Brinks truck," kidded an NL exec. "It might be a semi trailer. But it won't be one of those little trucks you see outside the bank. I know that."

There's no point even guessing what Greinke's final number will be. Will he top Matt Cain's $127.5 million? Cole Hamels' $144 million? CC Sabathia's $161 million? Powerball co-winner Cindy Hill's $293.75 million? Whatever.

The Dodgers can afford it. The Rangers could probably figure it out. The Angels would need to call their accountant -- 10 or 12 times. But he's Zack Greinke. When he's ready, the team of his choosing will be ready.

And the rest of the sport? It's been ready for days. Except it isn't just a bunch of free-agent starters who are waiting for their time to come. There is buzzing everywhere you turn about the potential for a monstrous deal or two to bust out. Three-team and four-team rumors fill the dead time, amid speculation that the Rays, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Indians are the clubs driving the discussions.

[+] EnlargeAnibal Sanchez
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesAnibal Sanchez is among those who will celebrate once Greinke makes his move.
Tampa Bay has pitching to deal. Texas has a million lines in the water, depending on what happens with Greinke and Josh Hamilton. Arizona is discussing various Justin Upton, Jason Kubel and Trevor Bauer scenarios. Cleveland is looking to move Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and others in a quest for arms and youth.

But the big conversations on starting pitching involve these teams:

  • Mets -- Only three reigning Cy Young winners in history have ever been traded in the same offseason in which they won the award: Roger Clemens (1998-99), Pedro Martinez (1997-98) and David Cone (1994-95). Maybe R.A. Dickey will become the fourth. But Mets GM Sandy Alderson is on record as saying the team wants a long-term "difference-maker" back. And an official of one team that checked in says: "There's a very good chance they end up keeping him. There are only a handful of clubs that would be looking to give up what they're asking for a guy like that, with one year left on his deal. And at his age, maybe there are some teams that look at the season he had and believe he'll be that guy again next year. But I don't think there are as many clubs sold on that as they'd like you to believe."
  • Rays -- "They're definitely looking to deal for a bat," says one exec. "And I don't think they're looking for prospects. They're looking for ready, or near-ready big league bats." And to get them, the Rays are willing to listen on just about any starting pitcher on the roster. They would need to be blown away to trade David Price or Matt Moore. But "to be honest," the exec said, "I don't think they've completely closed the book on anybody. It just depends on what you're willing to give up and which guy you think fits best." The Rangers and Royals have both been publicly linked to Shields. But it appears the Rays have so many teams interested in so many different kinds of deals, the only near certainty is that, at some point in the near future, they have at least one major trade in them.
  • Dodgers -- On one hand, the Dodgers are out there shopping for pitching, and not just for Greinke. They could also add a second free-agent starter along with him. Maybe an Anibal Sanchez. Maybe Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-Jin, whose negotiating window with the Dodgers ends Sunday. Maybe neither of the above, depending on how many dollars are left in their checking account if or when they finish paying Greinke. But if they do add two starters, that would give them eight veteran starting pitchers under contract next year. So they're also listening to inquiries on Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, and would no doubt move one or both if they find themselves with enough inventory.
  • Mariners -- Stop us if you've heard this before: The Mariners are on a mission to add offense. And to get it, said an official of one team that spoke with them, "They're definitely willing to talk about their young pitchers. I'm just not sure which one. One day, it sounds like they'll move James Paxton. The next day, it sounds like they'll move Danny Hultzen. The next day, maybe they'd talk about Taijuan Walker." They'd prefer, of course, to trade none of those three studs, who rank among the sport's brightest pitching prospects. But "in the end," the official said, "if they really want to trade for a legit bat, they've got to move one of those three."

There is a school of thought that not all of these potential trades are hung up in a state of Zack Greinke-induced limbo -- and that at least one, and maybe more, could happen as soon as this week, whether Greinke signs or not.

But for the most part, the baseball world is still biding its time, waiting for the big free-agent kahuna to make up his mind. Maybe Zack Greinke is aware of that. Maybe he's not. But either way, it's not his problem.

He has a future to plan. And it will just have to take as long as it takes -- because that, said the exec who knows him, "is just who he is."

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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