One of the bigger story lines to develop from the Winter Meetings was teams calling the Diamondbacks about Zack Greinke. Greinke’s contract is certainly a long term problem for the Diamondbacks given Greinke’s age and the limited payroll the team has to operate with. Greinke’s $34.4M per season is roughly about 30% of the team’s projected $115M Opening Day payroll, which previously wasn’t a big deal because most of the core of the team wasn’t in their arbitration seasons. Trading Greinke and offloading his salary does create some flexibility for the Diamondbacks to make moves, but at the same time is it worth it just to dump the contract for little to no return back? My answer to that question is no.
One of the rumors floating around the trade deadline was a potential trade that would have sent Greinke to the Yankees. Rumored to be part of the Yankees offer was including Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees signed Ellsbury to a 7-year, $153M contract back in 2014 and the Yankees are severely underwater with the contract with Ellsbury pushed out of a starting role with prospect Clint Frazier arriving to the big leagues and the Yankees most recent acquisition of slugger Giancarlo Stanton. With superior outfielders on the roster in Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner, Ellsbury doesn’t really have a job with the Yankees which is why they’re trying to move him. Ellsbury does have some connections with the Diamondbacks, with GM Mike Hazen working in the Red Sox front office when Ellsbury was there and Ellsbury owning a home in Arizona.
On the surface this looks like a pretty solid deal for Arizona. The Diamondbacks can dump Greinke’s salary while acquiring an outfielder who’s a sure bet to be better than Yasmany Tomas in left field in addition to potentially other pieces to help the team in the short and long term. The Diamondbacks certainly have an ace in the making with lefty Robbie Ray while Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley are ready to take that next step to form a solid 1-2-3 at the top of the rotation. However, I don’t think it’s a deal the Diamondbacks can necessarily agree to make unless they have really pessimistic projections for Greinke in 2018 and beyond.
The Diamondbacks still have $126.5M left on the books for Greinke, including $62.5M in deferred salary that they’ll pay Greinke in 2022-2026. A trade will also mean the Diamondbacks pay Greinke a $2M assignment bonus. It won’t be an easy contract for the Diamondbacks to move unless they eat some of money on the contract or take on another bad contract as part of the return. The Rangers originally offered the Dbacks to take on Shin-Soo Choo, which pretty much ended negotiations between the two teams. The Yankees have also requested the Diamondbacks take on a similarly bad contract with Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s a slightly better player than both Choo and Tomas. Ellsbury is owed at least $68.3M ($63.3M in salary, $5M buyout to a $21M club option in 2021) through the 2020 season, which is why the Diamondbacks haven’t been too interested in pulling the trigger on the deal.
Looking at the baseball side of things, I have Greinke projected to 3-4 WAR on the mound for the Diamondbacks. Ellsbury I have projected to be 1-2 WAR in the outfield, although he would move to left field in 2018 given the team already has a better player in CF in the form of A.J. Pollock. That leaves the team trying to close the 2 WAR gap in part of the trade. Even if the Diamondbacks ultimately get every penny of Greinke’s contract off the books in this deal, the team only saves about $12.5M in 2018-2020 and I expect in an actual trade that number to be less. That’s before calculating the salaries of the players coming back in the deal, unless the rest of the players in the return are all prospects. The team could invest that $12.5M into a starter in the free agent market, but $12.5M per year won’t buy a starting pitcher at Greinke’s level either.
The Diamondbacks should still continue to shop Greinke for the deal they want. The only question is what type of offers are on the table and if they’re willing to accept them. The team doesn’t seem too interested in taking back a bad contract in the swap or having to eat a significant portion of Greinke’s contract to facilitate a trade. I think ultimately the team will settle on what they can to offload the deal either later this offseason or perhaps at the deadline when the market for starting pitchers is at a feverish high, although in either case the Diamondbacks will have to eat a good chunk of the contract to get any type of return back. A lot can develop this winter, but I do expect the Diamondbacks to not be able to find the deal they like and Greinke to be in the rotation on Opening Day.