Each weekend, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to tsk@TimKellyMedia.com. Let’s get to this week’s question.
There were rumors of the Phillies checking in on Zack Greinke last offseason. Any chance they revisit that this offseason and it would it make sense to do so? – Mark in the Northeast
As Mark noted, The Athletic‘s Robert Murray, one of my favorite people in the industry, reported during last December’s MLB Winter Meetings that the Phillies did check in on Zack Greinke. However, his report came with the caveat that “talks ended quickly,” making a trade “highly unlikely.”
There is reason to think that at least one side could be more motivated to complete a deal this offseason, though.
After a disappointing finish to the 2018 season, the Diamondbacks appear destined to at least retool. Patrick Corbin, the team’s most effective starter in 2018, is expected to depart in free-agency (with the Phillies as a potential suitor). The team could listen to offers for controllable starters Robbie Ray and Zack Godley. And Paul Goldschmidt has just one season left on his contract, so there’s speculation that if the Diamondbacks are ready to jump all the way into a rebuild, they could potentially move the 31-year-old superstar.
Regardless of whether the Diamondbacks retool or enter a rebuild, Greinke is probably the player on their roster that general manager Mike Hazen is most motivated to trade. Make no mistake, Greinke, who turned 35 last month, can still really pitch. He topped 200 innings for the eighth time in his career in 2018, while posting a 3.21 ERA, a 3.71 FIP and a 3.5 fWAR in 2018. His average fastball velocity of 90.0 in 2018 was a career-low, but he has enough of a repertoire and is a smart enough pitcher that he’ll likely remain effective despite his fastball having lost over two miles-per-hour just since he joined the Diamondbacks in 2016. But Greinke is still due $104.5 million, and the Diamondbacks aren’t a traditional big-market team, so for that price, it would behoove them to move Greinke if he projects more as a No. 3 starter on a contending team moving forward.
Should the Phillies be interested? It would depend on the terms of such a trade. You could say that about any trade, but it’s especially true in this case. Greinke is still due $104.5 million, but it won’t just come over the remaining three seasons of his deal. As Ryan P. Morrison of Inside The Zona noted, Greinke makes around $24 million annually. 24 million annually over the course of a six-year deal comes out to $144 million. But Greinke’s total deal was worth $206.5 million, with Spotrac noting that he’s going to be paid $62.5 million in deferred money from 2022-2026. Selling a team on taking on over $70 million for three years of a 35-year-old pitcher would be tough. Asking them to take on $62.5 after the fact is an even taller task.
The Phillies, for example, could certainly afford to take on $72ish million over the next three seasons. They could even probably afford to take on $104.5 million to employ Greinke over the next three years (though it’s questionable if they actually would be interested in doing so). But the tremendous financial flexibility the Phillies have now could evaporate rather quickly. Aaron Nola will be eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2019, and can be a free-agent after the 2021 season. Rhys Hoskins, now a client of Scott Boras, figures to become pretty expensive when he becomes eligible for arbitration in 2021. And there’s long been the thought that the Phillies will sign at least one major free-agent this offseason. So being on the hook for $62.5 million for a player that likely won’t still be playing for you starting in 2022 could be an impediment to a trade.
In the interest of being realistic, while the Phillies will certainly have playoff aspirations in 2019 – especially if they sign any of the trio of Harper, Machado or Corbin – they probably won’t be World Series contenders next season. Though there’s reason to think Greinke could still be a very effective pitcher in two or three years, if you trade for a 35-year-old pitcher that is still owed over $100 million, you do so expecting to seriously compete for World Series titles right away. Right now, the Phillies aren’t there. Unless the Diamondbacks are willing to eat a significant chunk of Greinke’s salary – which would seem to at least partially defeat the purpose of trading him – the Phillies trading for Greinke in November of 2018 doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense.
Perhaps during “The Process” era – and a decade that has largely seen Philadelphia sports teams rebuilding – we’ve become a bit too patient in picking spots to make a major transaction. But next to no one would question a signing of Harper or Machado – at least in terms of the production they will bring on the field – as it relates to the Phillies trying to return to contention. Even if the Phillies aren’t serious contenders until 2020, Harper and Machado will still be a few years shy of their 30th birthdays. If the Phillies aren’t sure if they still a year or two away, Greinke, despite continuing to add to an under-the-radar Hall of Fame resume, just doesn’t make sense at this juncture. He may for some team, heck, it’s something the Phillies could revisit if they come of age quicker than expected in 2019. But right now, the concept of adding Greinke sounds more intriguing than the reality of adding a 35-year-old pitcher who is still owed a ton of money.
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