Delaying a chance to make even more money as a free agent, the right-hander agreed Monday to a $38 million, four-year contract that avoided a salary arbitration hearing.
Greinke, the No. 6 overall draft pick in 2002, was rushed to the majors because the Royals were desperate for talent. Often moody and uncommunicative, he suddenly bolted from spring training in 2006 and went home to Orlando, Fla., thinking he was probably through with baseball.
But the Royals talked him into seeking treatment for what was diagnosed as social disorder. Former general manager Allard Baird and ex-manager Buddy Bell spent countless hours with their discouraged young pitcher who, in his own words, "just hated being around people."
Greinke admits it was a struggle. But by 2007, he was back in the big leagues to stay. With a lively, biting fastball and good command of three other pitches, he went 13-10 in 32 starts last year, setting career highs in strikeouts (183) and innings (202 1-3). His 3.47 ERA was the best by a full-time Royals starter in 11 years.
"It was awesome. They could've easily pushed me aside, or helped me get back and then dump me off as soon as they could get something for me," Greinke said. "But they did everything they could, bent over backwards to help me."
The 25-year-old Greinke, just coming into his prime earning years, could have become a free agent after the 2010 season.
"He may have been the most sought-after free agent in the winter of 2010," general manager Dayton Moore said. "We went aggressive with Zack and fortunately we got the backing [from ownership] to be able to do this."
When he left spring training in 2006, Greinke wasn't even sure why he was so miserable.
"I didn't realize there was a cure for what I had, where I just hated being around people," he said. "I was going to get a job where I didn't have to be around people all the time. Mainly, just mowing grass was my goal."
Now his priorities are entirely different.
"It's just been, like seriously, three years of just thinking every day I want to get as good as I can get and help the Royals as much as I can," he said.
When Moore replaced Baird, he maintained the same hands-on care of Greinke that his predecessor had shown.
"Yeah, he had some setbacks along the way, which are self-proclaimed by him," Moore said. "A lot of people, and a lot of his teammates helped out, too. It's been a process that everyone's been involved with. But ultimately, Zack's the one who's earned this opportunity."
After earning $1,475,000 last season, Greinke asked for $4.4 million in arbitration when he exchanged proposed salaries with the Royals last week. The team offered $3.4 million.
He gets $3.75 million this year, $7.25 million in 2010 and $13.5 million in each of the final two seasons of the deal.
Gratitude was not the only reason he wanted to stay with the long-woeful Royals, who have improved their victory total each of the past three seasons.
"Each year we've improved and it looks like we're going to continue to," he said. "And that's pretty exciting for me because like I said, three or four years ago I didn't see it coming. It's really taken a good turn for the better.
"Three years ago I was in the minor leagues, two years ago I was in the bullpen not capable of getting hitters out as a starter. Just coming from being so low in those situations to being, after one good year, a really good deal and the chance to stay with Kansas City for four more years. ... It's just really neat to look back at it."