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MLB free agent predictions: Where will Zack Greinke sign?

The Dodgers' co-ace might win the Cy Young, and he might be making $30 million a year when the season starts. Who will pay him?

Welcome back to an annual tradition, where we look at a free agent player and see which team makes the most sense for him. You might remember our brilliant predictions from last year:

Pablo Sandoval, Giants
Jon Lester, Yankees
Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
Max Scherzer, Tigers
Yasmany Tomas, Yankees
James Shields, Red Sox
Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays
Chase Headley, Padres

Nailed it. Oh, and almost all of the guesses about contract size were overinflated, too. We've learned some lessons, we have. This year will be different.

Ha ha, just kidding. It'll be the same. But the fun isn't in getting the predictions right. It's about exploring a player and his value to different teams around the league. It's not like you have games to watch. Let's talk about a player.

Today's player is right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke, who just might win the Cy Young. Since signing with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, he's improved mightily with his ERA, FIP and walk rate, moving from an excellent pitcher to an exceptional one. He's missed about 10 starts over the last eight seasons, none of them in the last two years. It'll at least be his third straight season in which he gets at least one Cy Young vote.

He can hit dingers, too.

There are negatives, there always are. He's 32, an age where even the greats start to pooter out. Roy Oswalt shows up as a comp on Greinke's Baseball-Reference page, and 32 was the beginning of his end. Bret Saberhagen is another comp, and he didn't pitch his age-32 season. It's the age where John Smoltz became a reliever because of injuries and the mileage on his arm. It's when a lot of the best pitchers move from great to pretty good, except Greinke will be paid to be great.

He's had a cranky elbow, too. Not just in the past, we're talking this year. It couldn't have been too nasty, considering that he might win the Cy Young, but we're still talking about a pitcher who gets a shot of elbow lube every spring. Did we mention the part where he's 32?

Here's a list of the 34 pitchers who have thrown 2,000 innings or more since 2000. At the top is Mark Buehrle, who never gets hurt because he is made out of redwood and granite. Five of the other pitchers have never experienced a serious injury, prolonged stretch of ineffectiveness or mysterious velocity drop. All five of those pitchers are active. Time and injury got the other 28. It always will. Be wary of a five- or six- year deal that pays a pitcher $25 million or more through his age-37 or age-38 season.

We've been talking about the baseball gods like they're all capricious sociopaths, but what if the pitching gods are the evil ones, and the baseball gods are locked in a virtuous struggle with them in an astral plane? You'll know what I'm talking about when my graphic novel comes out.

On the other hand, Greinke might win the Cy Young because he's awesome. Just a perfect pitcher right now. Hard to resist tossing millions at a guy this valuable.

The favorites

Your job is to close your eyes and concoct a scenario where the Dodgers back away, hands up, saying, "Oh, man, we're not going to pay him that much."


Right, me neither. And I've tried, believe me. The Dodgers in the Guggenheim Era have come in second place before. Several times. They made a competitive offer for Jon Lester. They had their hands in all sorts of prospect pots in the international market, and they came up short on more than a few, including one to their archrivals. They put prices on players, and they're not afraid to back away when those prices get too high. Just like a normal team.

This is different, though. This is their co-ace, one of the best shots they have to win the World Series, which is the only goal that matters for the Dodgers right now. In three years, when Greinke might start creaking, who knows what the Dodgers will look like? They seem like the kind of self-propelled baseball machine that will never fail, like the Yankees or Cardinals, but there are a lot of monsters in the forest of the next three years. They just know they're good now, and Greinke's a huge part of that.

It's possible that the Dodgers prefer David Price. That's the only way Greinke doesn't sign with them. The pointy heads and abacus twiddlers and scouting gurus like something in Price -- his frame, his age, the way he doesn't look like Joaquin Phoenix in Parenthood -- and that's their offseason target to pair with Clayton Kershaw. Or maybe they're thinking that spending extra for both Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto would be preferable to just one Greinke.

If the Dodgers want Greinke, though, they won't be underbid. They're the calm dude in sweatpants at the front of the auction, lazily raising his bid paddle whenever he needs to.

The ideal

The Giants are absolutely smitten with Zack Greinke. They think he'll age well. They think he'll fit in with the Giants' infield defense, the players on the current roster and AT&T Park. They want a complement to Madison Bumgarner, and here's a right-handed Cy Young candidate. The downside to a doomed full-throttle pursuit of Greinke is that the Dodgers spend more money. That's the downside.

Wait, no, the downside is that they miss out on every other premium pitcher on the market and end up with Ian Kennedy, giving away a draft pick to get him. This is Kennedy compared to Greinke:

Almost the same! Almost the same. Just ... not the same. And that's a real downside. But they can still cost the Dodgers some money! That they won't notice is missing.

Still, the Giants are quietly amassing a bit of a war chest, and they have a very, very obvious goal this offseason: Get a starting pitcher, maybe two. They have about $50 million to spend if they increase their payroll at the same rate they've been increasing it ... but they might not stop there. From the Mercury News:

"The biggest single thing for us going forward is that we have a real estate project," Baer said. "That is going to help us create a very important neighborhood around the ballpark and allow us to keep up with teams that are in larger markets."

The Giants just became real estate moguls in San Francisco, thanks to a proposition that just passed. This isn't money they have to share according to former mayor Willie Brown.

If Proposition D passes -- and every poll shows it will -- the project will be a financial boon for the Giants, giving them a steady stream of money that they won’t have to share with other Major League Baseball teams. When it comes to being able to buy superstars, the new money will raise the Giants to the level of big-market teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and, yes, the Dodgers.

That money isn't here yet, so maybe this is premature. But there's a feeling around the Giants right now that they won't be afraid to spend for free agents for the first time since the Barry Zito boondoggle. And they're absolutely smitten with Greinke.

(They still can't compete with the Dodgers financially, though. Which is important.)


The funny thing is that Greinke could totally be at home right now, saying "I think I want to pitch in Colorado. Seems like it would be different. A new challenge. I think I want to pitch in Colorado." Who knows what the guy is actually thinking?

He's the Dodgers' to lose, though, and everyone there seems quite fond of him. He's not going to get a $200 million contract, not at his age, and unless the Dodgers prefer Price, they're not letting him get away.

It would be more likely for them to get Greinke and Price than get outbid for Greinke by a division rival. That's the stark reality. Dudes are rich.

Zack Greinke, Dodgers, five years, $148 million