Arizona poised to be a contender with ace right-hander atop rotation
By Richard Justice
Zack Greinke makes the Arizona Diamondbacks better on so many levels, we could spend days counting them all. So let's begin with the obvious. He's the embodiment of a No. 1 starter and exactly what this franchise needs.
There could be more coming. Even as Arizona reportedly pulled one of the top two free-agent pitchers off the market in Greinke, it continues to shop for pitching. Right-hander Mike Leake appears to be one possibility.
If the D-backs pull off a second signing, they might just elevate themselves to close to favorite status in the National League West, right there with the Dodgers and Giants. OK, let's not get greedy.
For one day, Greinke is plenty. In signing him to a reported record-setting six-year, $206.5 million contract, the Diamondbacks signaled that it's time to win. No more rebuilding. No three- or five-year plans. Winning time.
Who is a No. 1 starter anyway? It's the guy who wants the big game on his shoulders, the one willing to go against the other team's No. 1. He believes it's his responsibility to end losing streaks or give the bullpen a night off.
The thing is, the D-backs are really close. They had the NL's second-highest scoring offense in 2015, a club with a superstar at first base in Paul Goldschmidt and an emerging star in center field in A.J. Pollock.
In going 79-83, they performed with tenacity and professionalism, drawing effusive praise from chief baseball officer Tony La Russa. They used 50 players in all, and when they were done, the D-backs had the youngest team in the Majors.
This offseason was about getting a big arm for the front of the rotation. Given their depth of position players, it seemed their best chance was to acquire a Sonny Gray or a Shelby Miller via trade.
To swoop in and grab Greinke from the middle of a Dodgers-Giants heavyweight bout sends a message, not just to fans in the Valley of the Sun, but to Goldschmidt and Pollock, as well as every player and coach in the clubhouse.
When ownership extends itself the way the D-backs just did, it's a signal that there's a commitment to winning. This is going to be an interesting, fun and competitive team in 2016.
Greinke's 2015 season was one of the great performances any pitcher has ever had. His 1.66 ERA was the lowest in the Majors in 20 years, and he allowed fewer than two runs in 21 of 32 starts.
Since 2008, Greinke has averaged 205 innings, 195 strikeouts and a 2.99 ERA. He's top 10 in the Majors in every one of those categories in that time. Greinke is 32, and while his velocity has declined a bit in recent seasons, his secondary pitches are so good and his conditioning so meticulous that he may pitch at a high level for a long time.
Now about that contract. Yes, it's six years and takes Greinke past his 38th birthday. To project him pitching as this same level for all those years is unrealistic.
On the other hand, it's also important to see the larger picture. For the D-backs, this is about re-establishing themselves as a contender. They've managed their payroll smartly to prepare for just such a moment when they saw an opportunity to add an impact player.
Besides that, it's about winning now. If Arizona gets back in the postseason mix for the next couple of years, Greinke will impact revenues, franchise value, etc. In other words, this contract will have done what it was supposed to do.
La Russa intends to construct a farm system that will sustain success for the D-backs. While Arizona has some young pitchers who could become stars, there's probably no one close to being Zack Greinke anytime soon. On Thursday night, the D-backs threw themselves a party to show off their classy new uniforms. It was a feel-good night in which team president Derrick Hall presided, in which players like Goldschmidt and Pollock showed up and said all the right things about the future being bright.
And less than 24 hours later, that future got even brighter.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.