LOS ANGELES -- Whether or not Los Angeles Dodgers fans wanted to believe them, they told the truth all along.
Just as the hot stove was getting primed back in early November, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman laid out the team’s approach to this offseason. He said the goal was to field a really talented team going into 2016, but an "even better one in 2017 and beyond."
In conversations leading up to free agency, members of the Dodgers front office -- which was united, from president Stan Kasten down -- was skeptical about whether a megacontract for Zack Greinke was a good investment.
Losing Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks -- because the Dodgers wouldn’t kick in a sixth guaranteed year to a 32-year-old who has thrown more than 33,000 major league pitches -- is not a good development, obviously, for the Dodgers’ chances in 2016. Not only do they lose the killer one-two punch they had with Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, but they now have to face one of the best right-handers in baseball five or six times a year.
Letting Greinke walk was, however, a good development for their chances beyond the next season or two. The Dodgers gave it a legitimate effort, made a "very strong offer," in Friedman’s words. They reportedly offered him a five-year contract that would have paid $155 million. That’s a 21 percent raise off his previous salary and would have been paying him at least $31 million at the age of 37. Only two major league pitchers who were 37 or older, John Lackey and R.A. Dickey, pitched at least 200 innings and had an ERA of less than 4.00 last season.
Will Greinke age well? If you were making a guess, you’d say, "probably," but it would be no more than a guess. He commands the ball as well as anyone, cares deeply about the game, stays in great shape and excels in the little things like fielding and hitting. As his fastball declines, he’ll find ways to adapt, you would think. The man he was most often compared to last season, Greg Maddux, went 105-55 with a 3.05 ERA and averaged 228 innings a year in his age 32 through 37 seasons.
Is it possible Greinke would have aged as gracefully as Maddux and lived up to the deal he’s about to sign? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it makes good business sense. Greinke felt elbow pain at the end of both of the past two spring trainings and during both of the past two second halves. And remember, the day Kasten hired Friedman, it was about making shrewd moves, not the big-dollar moves that get fans excited, the kind the Dodgers specialized in for the 2½ years before Friedman arrived.
So far, the biggest free-agent deal Friedman has made since taking over the Dodgers was the four-year, $48 million contract he signed with Brandon McCarthy. That personal record will fall this winter, most likely, but it wouldn’t be shocking if it didn’t either.
Somebody asked Friedman his philosophy on long-term deals for veteran, star-level players shortly before he took off for the general managers meetings. It hasn’t changed now that he’s about to head off for the winter meetings, one would presume.
"Obviously, players want as long a deal as possible, and teams prefer as short a deal as possible. Then it’s into the negotiations," Friedman said. "Everything varies depending on the player you’re talking about, but if you look over time, so many long-term deals for free agent contracts have worked out really poorly."
So, yeah, now the Dodgers will work harder on Plans B, C and D, though the truth is they were exploring those well before Greinke opted to take the last dollar offered. They scouted Johnny Cueto heavily starting last June, dispatching top scout Galen Carr to see him several times, partially for due diligence before the trade deadline, partially with an eye on this free-agency period. But Cueto, who is 29, also will take a long-term commitment and will carry the usual risk.
They already have been linked with free-agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma, which makes sense because Iwakuma is 34 and could probably be had for something closer to McCarthy’s deal than Greinke’s. They will continue to explore trade talks for young, cost-controlled pitchers with good upsides and figure to dangle outfielders Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson to generate interest.
Losing a Cy Young winner (who probably should have two by now) is never fun, but don’t say they didn’t warn you.