Despite the fact that Zack Greinke has performed very well for the vast majority of his contract with the Diamondbacks to date, questions about whether or not the Diamondbacks should trade him, and what the return might be continue to be asked throughout the industry and on this very website.
What follows is an attempt to address these questions to the best of my ability. But I’ll say up front there is a level of subjectivity here that is impossible to escape. So please go easy on me in the comments, and I promise to do the same in response. :). First there is a rather long setup to engage in. Bear with me.
Let’s start with some off season speculation. As early as October last year, Bob Nightengale kicked off the speculation:
The Arizona #Dbacks could be the most popular team this winter among GMs with the Dbacks expect to strip down the team and rebuild, with virtually everyone on the trade block. They'd love to move Zack Greinke, and will even listen on franchise icon Paull Goldschmidt.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 10, 2018
Note the phrase, “They’d LOVE to move Zack Greinke”.
He doubled down in November:
The #Dbacks aren't bothering to hide it, they are extensively shopping Greinke, who had fabulous season once again, but realize they will have to pay portion of the remaining $104.5 million remaining in his contract. Be interesting if they packaged Greinke and Goldschmidt.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 16, 2018
But then followed up in December with this:
One can only guess if these rumors purporting to know the intentions and mindset of the Diamondbacks management were accurate or not. However I’ve met Bob a few times, and while like many national writers with high exposure, he’s come under criticism in the past, I find him to be very knowledgable and VERY well connected and keyed in to what’s going on. Although I doubt his information came directly from a leak in the DBacks front office, I do believe that whoever the Dbacks were talking to leaked something to Bob. He wouldn’t tweet those things out without any basis at all. That I’m pretty sure of. Of course he could have been manipulated. We know that happens too.
So the question becomes, what happened ? I remember seeing a report that the DBacks were adamant about not absorbing any of his salary to move him. I can’t find that report as of this writing, but if anyone remembers and has a link, please post in the comments. However if that is true, it would seem to be a pretty big obstacle to moving Zack if that is truly their desire. More on that below.
It was also reported that Zack’s no trade clause was a block to moving him:
Greinke’s 15-team no-trade list is seen as major impediment to deal. Greinke smartly included Phils, cards, dodgers - almost any big-market team. 2 teams that have shown interest in past not on are HOU and WASH, tho nats already got Corbin. Hou talked ZG last year. @ZHBuchanan— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 10, 2018
And Nick Piecoro reported that Zack himself said he didn’t wan’t to go anywhere:
he is not interested in going anywhere else. He said he would understand if the team thinks trading him is in its best interests – although the club would have to navigate Greinke’s 15-team no-trade clause – but he has “(no) desire to be traded to any team.”
“I’ve had a really good time here,” he said. “Everything about it is pretty good. The organization is pretty good, the town’s good. The players on the team are great. It’s just a good set-up here.”
Mike Hazen came out and said very clearly that he is very much “tank averse” and his intentions were to “compete” in 2019. This Piecoro Article is a good refresher into Hazen’s mindset.
At the end of the day it’s probable that there were no deals out there for Zack that would actually have improved the team’s chances in 2019, especially if they weren’t eating any of the contract. In retrospect, that seems to have been emphatically correct. Zack fit within the team’s budget of 125M for 2019, and had they moved him, despite saving a lot of money, I’m hard pressed to see where and how they would have used that money to get the same or equal production value. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but looking beyond Zack’s stellar first half, even back during the off season it’s easy to see why that would also have been the case.
Now we fast forward to July 2019, and things are still quite murky. On the one hand, the team is floundering and does not appear to be a playoff caliber team. Current standings and recent losses within the division can only be pushing Mike Hazen towards decisions that will fall more on the sell side of the spectrum than the buy side.
But sell starting pitcher innings ? With a decimated rotation due to injuries (Luke Weaver, Jon Duplantier, Taijuan Walker) and under performance, (Zack Godley, Taylor Clarke since callup, Taylor Widener underperforming in AAA) they need SOMEBODY to pitch and eat innings to have any semblance of a major league ball club over the second half of the season, and into 2020. They’re essentially down to a 3 man rotation as it is. Trading Zack now would only further hollow out an already Swiss cheese rotation. It would also be a signal for everybody to go home and not bother showing up to ballpark the rest of the season.
I’ll add at this point, I’m not averse to strip downs if there is a clear path to quick turnaround and the right pieces are in place and/or obtained in the process. However I don’t believe there are enough high level prospects in the system currently that they can justify turning all the innings over to. Imagine if DBacks were to move both Zack and Robbie Ray. They would have a rotation of
Jon Duplantier/Luke Weaver (if and when they’re healthy enough to return, although Dup is closer than Weaver)
They would be lucky to win 30% of their games the rest of the way
And they would not have much better options internally beyond 2019. So they would need to get some very good returns for Zack, (And Robbie) if they do trade them. They need major league ready starting pitching. Mike Hazen said the other day he has been looking to fortify the rotation from the outside, but there just aren’t any deals to be made just yet.
So all of the above “setup” is to say that it’s very unclear to me that the Diamondbacks actually have a desire to trade Zack Greinke, and even if they do, the impediments are considerable. Still we can’t rule out the possibility that they’ll do it. And just in case, well then we have to examine just what his trade value might be.
And that is a very complicated process. I’ll say up front I’m having a real tough time getting a handle on it. Not only is it extremely difficult to nail down a trade value that I personally feel comfortable with presenting, but then when you factor in trying to handicap how other MLB teams will value him vs. how the Dbacks value him, all of which might be quite different than what I’m thinking, it becomes so multi layered as to be speculation. That said, I’ll give it a try. I still think my somewhat informed guesses are better than no guesses at all, and probably will get us in the same zip code of reality.
First a few points to note:
1.) On some sites you see 35M due to Zack in 2020 and 2021. However that number includes the pro rated signing bonus of 3M spread out over 6 years. The signing bonus is always paid by the signing team. If Zack is traded at any point, the unpaid portion of the signing bonus will definitely be paid by the Dbacks. On this point I am 98% sure. The remaining signing bonus to be paid is 6M, 3M each for 2020 and 2021. ( 2019 is already paid. )
2.) There is also a 2M assignment bonus if he is traded. I am not clear if that bonus is movable. But for the sake of argument, I’ll say that the DBacks need to pay that as well.
So the bonus amounts total 8M that the DBacks will most likely have to pay no matter what.
3.) The deferred salary portions for service time already rendered to the DBacks 2016-to now is the DBacks responsibility. They can’t get out of paying at least that portion of the deferred salary. It’s already Diamondbacks debt.
That leaves the following left on Zack’s contract:
2019: 33% of his salary if traded July 31st. = 10.4 M
Total 74.4 M remaining Salary starting from August 1, 2019. Of that, 22.35 M is deferred to 2025-26. The team trading for him would assume those amounts, if taking on the full contract.
So with this as the basis for understanding the dollars owed, we then proceed to calculate his trade value. And to do so, we need to project his future performance. And that has proven to be quite difficult because, well Zack is who he is. Normal aging curves and projection systems don’t seem to work on him very well, or at least they haven’t as yet. Many of the reason’s why can be found in the previous articles in this Greinke series by Sean and by myself. But we have to try.
First I’ll start with his ZIPS projections from Dan Szymborksi available on his Fangraphs Page. Helpfully, they have his rest of season projection as well as his 3 year projection further down his page. (His ROS 1.6 WAR is pro rated to 1.3 since I’m using 7/31 trade deadline as the date he’d be moved)
Well Negative trade value of 33M is not very encouraging. Forget about getting a prospect worth anything if THAT is how other team’s view Zack’s future. If they see it like this, they’ll want the DBacks to kick in 0ver 30M and still not give up anyone good.
A few points of explanation are needed about the table. Previously Fangraphs was using 8M for WAR Dollar Value a couple years ago and were projecting it to rise. But the market did not do what people were expecting the last couple of years. They have now calculated 7.8M per Free Agent War based on the dollars actually being paid out. I have held it to that number the next two years as well, assuming that before there is a new CBA, not much is going to change. Also, we’re due for a recession sooner or later, and that could also hold salaries down.
The second thing to note is why this projection looks so low. ZIPS projects his innings totals to drop (go to the link posted above) AND it expects the quality of the innings he pitches to drop as well. This is due to a combination of aging curves, regression, and the fact that ZIPS inputs rely fairly heavy on peripherals. Add to that some very real concerns that Zack has reached a tipping point with his velocity loss. It’s legitimate to question just how much longer he can fool hitters. I’ve beaten this drum before however, and was proven wrong two years in a row. Sooner or later I’ll be right, much in the way a broken clock is right twice a day. We’ve seen Zack beat his peripherals year after year through his intelligence and pitching savvy and all around great play. So it’s not unreasonable to expect him to continue to do so, at least to some degree, despite declining velocity.
So now lets take an extreme opposite view, which I’ll label. “Fanboy”. Zack is on pace for a 6.2 bWAR season. Taking his last 4 seasons, and weighting them 4,3,2,1, I come up with a 5.1 WAR weighted average. The following Trade Value Table takes that 5.1, pro rates the balance of 2019 to 1.70, and then reduces a very modest 0.5 WAR to 4.6 for his age 36 season, and then another 1.0 WAR less to 3.6 for age 37 season.
So I went full on Fan Boy just to come up with a trade value that gets very slightly in the black. To some this will look like a reasonable projection. But it’s highly doubtful that any team willing to trade for him is going to view his age 36 & 37 seasons this way. And even if they did, and agreed to take on all that money just to break even, what level of prospect can you expect back ?
Neither of the above projections and trade value charts “feels” right to me. So I’m going to conclude with my “Goldilocks” projection:
This seems to be about the right valuation. You just can’t ignore his age and go all fanboy. But the hardline regressed projection of ZIPS does not seem to fit the reality that is Zack Greinke either. This middle ground still leaves him with a negative trade value. It’s possible that some team in contention could look at that difference and conclude the marginal value of making it to the playoffs or having a chance to advance is worth the risk of absorbing that 16M shortfall in projected value. That has to be the hope if you are the Diamondbacks and are in fact looking to move him.
However, that still does not bring you back any talent of note. If we go back to some previous work by the Point of Pittsburgh from 2018, even a pitching prospect ranked between 76-100 is calculated to have a marginal value of 15M, (hitter of same ranking about 20M). So if the DBacks want some team to give them back a prospect of note, one that is knocking on the door and major league ready, they are going to have to kick in 15M at the very least. By the table, it should actually be closer to 30M, due to the 16M trade shortfall deficit.
If the DBacks want to move Zack Greinke AND get a prospect ranked within the top 100, it’s going to cost them a minimum of 15 Million, and perhaps upwards of 30 Million. Layer that on top of the situations listed out above with regards to his NTC, desire to stay in Arizona, and the team’s current rotation holes, and it will be quite a feat for Mike Hazen to trade him and get a decent return, (and not end up with a team with just abysmal starting pitching.)
As James Attwood has stated quite succinctly recently, Zack Greinke probably has more value to the DBacks than to any other team right now.