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The Cardinals and Zack Greinke: Parallels to Learn

The Cardinals were never "in" on Zack Greinke but they had to be watching for the end result with care. In the near term, they'll begin negotiations with Adam Wainwright who has proven to be an elite pitcher of comparable value to Zack Greinke.

The focus is Adam Wainwright but the hazy, ill-desired memory of Pedro Feliz remains.
The focus is Adam Wainwright but the hazy, ill-desired memory of Pedro Feliz remains.
Kevin C. Cox

Yesterday, news broke that the Dodgers had finally consummated their long rumored interest in free agent pitcher Zack Greinke. A six year contract worth $147M is the cost of doing business with elite pitchers in the modern game. If $20M a year isn't available, then buy a pint of Ben & Jerry's to console yourself when you lose out on that player.

Imagine, for a moment, if a Cardinals' player had come out with social anxiety disorder. The reception would probably be pretty charitable in St. Louis but it's hard to say. Greinke's openness about his condition has been both a necessity of the modern era of sports coverage and a credit to his own courage. Would this candor be as equally well received:

It's not that he's unfriendly to his fellow Brewers but says he does not intend to chat with them for an hour every day and that he is not interested in group dinners.

"To talk to people, I have to spend energy," he said. "If I spend my energy focused on talking to people and making friends, then that takes away from the energy I could be focused on getting ready to pitch. So I just try to avoid nonsense talk.

That would have engendered an unwelcome response in the clubhouse of past years in St. Louis. Stilted comments from coaches about Greinke's need for routine or not being enough of a clubhouse guy. Over the course of his career, Greinke has been notably better at home than on the road. His 3.42 home ERA is .73 points lower than his road ERA (4.15) with over 700 innings pitched in both cases. Greinke (like many pitchers) is better at home than on the road.

The less than subtle allusion to Jaime Garcia is one of the interesting aspects to Greinke's career. Garcia's split is far more pronounced (almost 2.0 full points of ERA difference) but remains couched in comments to the press by teammates and coaches. Garcia does not, or at least has never revealed, that he has social anxiety disorder. It's also a safe bet that Greinke has endured his fair share of hacky newspaper writing about on the field performances stemming from off the field issues. The reality is that Zack Greinke is an elite pitcher. Setting aside whatever mental issues, real or perceived, that Greinke or Garcia may have, the merits of their perfomances are what dictate their contracts.

Which is partly what makes Greinke's contract so unsurprising. The human interest story may be about Greinke overcoming adversity to be a better baseball player but the baseball interest story is that Zack Greinke makes hitters look foolish. From 2000-2012, here are the single season fWAR leaders for pitchers:

Year Player fWAR
2001 Randy Johnson 10.7
2000 Pedro Martinez 10.1
2004 Randy Johnson 9.9
2000 Randy Johnson 9.7
2002 Curt Schilling 9.7
2009 Zack Greinke 9.3
2002 Randy Johnson 8.7
2009 Justin Verlander 8.3
2002 Pedro Martiez 8.3
2011 Roy Halladay 8.1

First of all, holy hell, Randy Johnson.

Secondly, Zack Greinke has the 6th best season of the 2000s. He has a better single season performance than Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay. He has a better single season performance than recent contract receivers CC Sabbathia, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels. Zack Greinke is a really good pitcher.

For the Cardinals, the takeaway from the Dodgers throwing a ton of money at Greinke is that they should begin preparing their $20M per year offer for Adam Wainwright. Over the last three active seasons (2009, 2010, 2012), Wainwright has been worth 16.2 fWAR or 2 wins more than Zack Greinke's last three active seasons. Though a few years older than Greinkie, Wainwright would be foolish to not look at this contract and peg himself at this level. It is, after all, the same rough level that Matt Cain ($112.5M/5Y) and Cole Hamels' ($144M/6Y) contracts were.

The Cardinals are equipped to take on this kind of contract and the continuity that Wainwright could provide in a graceful decline is not that dissimilar to rotation mate Chris Carpenter. The St. Louis rotation is going to change in a big way over the next few years. Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook will retire/leave. Jaime Garcia may or may not pitch for much longer. The cadre of team controlled young arms (from Lance Lynn to Shelby Miller to Michael Wacha) are working their way into the upper reaches of the system, ready for to lay the foundational work for their future free agent contracts.

If the Cardinals want Adam Wainwright to help shepherd the young, talented arms to fruition, they should look at Zack Greinke's contract. That's almost certainly what Adam Wainwright is doing.