As the Winter Meetings near their end here in Nashville, the latest buzz has Zack Greinke potentially going somewhere other than the Dodgers. Which seems impossible, really.
The team with unlimited money and both a need and desire for a top-flight pitcher to pair with Clayton Kershaw would seem unbeatable in any bidding war for the top free-agent starter on the market. But multiple theories have floated as to why a top-dollar offer to play for a glamour franchise might not be enough. The L.A. Times’s Dylan Hernandez notes the Dodgers' reluctance to include no-trade clauses as the reason Greinke might sign elsewhere for less money — and why alternatives such as Anibal Sanchez and Ryu Hyun-jin could also have second thoughts. (In the case of Hyun-jin, he'd return to South Korea, and the Dodgers would be refunded their $25.7 million posting fee, if the two sides can't come to an agreement by 2 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday). USA Today’s Bob Nightengale says Greinke's potential reluctance to go (back) to the L.A. area might simply have more to do with being more comfortable in Texas. Texas's more favorable tax code could help the Rangers, too.
If Greinke doesn't join the Dodgers, the favorite to land him becomes Texas. One of the few teams with both money and attractive trade assets on hand, the Rangers could make multiple significant moves between now and Christmas. There's l'affaire Greinke, first and foremost, where Texas would like to pair the 29-year-old righty with the elite advanced stats profile and bewildering struggles with men on base. There's the Rangers' pending four-year offer to Josh Hamilton, with conflicting reports on the Mariners' lack of interest in topping that offer, including one suggestion that Seattle's late entry into the rumored four- or five-team megadeal making the rounds might be to ensure that Texas gets Justin Upton, so that the M's can land Hamilton. And there's talk of Texas trading Michael Young — he of the fading bat, lousy defense, and clubhouse reputation that's so strong he gets parodied for it — to Philly for a reliever, a young player, or both, with the Rangers absorbing half (or more) of Young's oppressive $16 million salary for 2013.
Here's the latest being reported on the megadeal front: The Rays and Royals have talked about a swap of Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers for veteran right-hander James Shields. The deal would be a win for Tampa Bay, given Shields offers two years of team control to Myers's six, Myers is a righty-swinging power bat who'd fit perfectly in an outfield down a man with B.J. Upton gone, and the swap would free up $10 million in salary that the Rays could use to pursue another bat, which could help defray the impact of playing banjo hitter James Loney at first. In return, the Royals would get the pitcher with the fifth-most innings pitched over the past six seasons, a durable starter good enough to be on the fringes of Cy Young discussion in 2011. But as with any Rays pitcher, you have to ask how he'd fare outside of Tampa Bay, since Tropicana Field is one of the friendliest pitchers' parks in the game, and the defense behind each pitcher is usually spectacular (every year of the past half-decade except 2012, anyway). Though there can be mitigating factors beyond the obvious to explain big home/road splits, Shields's career road ERA (4.54) being more than a run higher than his home ERA (3.33) is a bit unnerving for a team that might soon trade away the best hitting prospect on the planet. This is the curse of teams crying poverty: The Royals could potentially have an above-average starting pitcher and retain a potential franchise player in Myers if they simply opened their wallet for Sanchez or Edwin Jackson, both of whom might not make much more than Shields over the next two seasons (though they'd likely require several more years of team commitment to get them signed).
Elsewhere, the Yankees are holding fast to their goal of ducking under the 2014 luxury tax threshold of $189 million, offering another big-dollar, one-year deal. The target this time is Kevin Youkilis, who was so restricted by injuries last year that he hit just .235/.336/.409, posting an OPS more than 100 points below his career average. Even if the bat rebounds somewhat, Youkilis is a lock to be a below-average defensive third baseman next year at age 34. But in the case of Beggars v. Choosers, the Yankees don't have many other options, with the free-agent cupboard practically bare and no obvious trade candidates who wouldn't require strip-mining the farm system. At least one team has reportedly offered a two-year deal for $8 million to $9 million a year, with the Indians said to be one of the most interested parties.
In other news:
- Joe Blanton agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the Angels. Blanton might seem like an underwhelming replacement for departing starters Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, but the Angels also acquired Tommy Hanson recently, with Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson still manning the top of the rotation. Plus Blanton could also prove to be a bargain: The same spacious conditions and home-run-stealing outfield that's helped Weaver overcome his mediocre velocity and fly ball tendencies could also help Blanton, who owns the fifth-highest home run–to–fly ball rate of any starting pitcher over the past four seasons. Blanton is one of baseball's most hittable pitchers, ranking among the worst in hit and home run rates for pitchers in recent years. But that's also because he's a relentless strike-thrower, with the second-best strikeout-to-walk rate in the majors in 2012. This isn't a sexy deal. But it is a good one.
- Nate Schierholtz signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Cubs, with incentives that could tack on another $500,000. This is an early contender for bargain of the offseason, given Schierholtz's underrated skills: a glove that's average or slightly better in a corner outfield spot, with a potentially playable left-handed bat. The Rays reportedly came in a close second on the Schierholtz bidding, which makes you wonder if they made a low-ball offer because they're close to landing a bigger bat (such as Myers), especially given GM Andrew Friedman's slightly-less-cryptic than usual comments.
- The Royals reportedly offered Ryan Dempster a two-year, $26 million deal. The Mets are reportedly willing to offer R.A. Dickey a two-year, $26 million deal. Dempster, a better-than-average but certainly not elite starter, turned Kansas City down. Dickey, who won the Cy Young last season, was willing to accept a similar figure, only for the Mets to hold back in doing the deal. In both cases, it might be best for the teams to change course: If the Royals sign Dempster, they could get a pitcher not far from Shields's production level without giving up Myers, making a higher offer for Dempster a viable option. For the Mets, seeing teams getting increasingly desperate for pitching, and knowing you've got an excellent pitching foundation in Jon Niese, Matt Harvey, and eventually Zack Wheeler, it might be worth it to trade Dickey for a big return, and let him sign an extension elsewhere.
More from the Winter Meetings:
• Many Unanswered Questions As the Winter Meetings Wind Down (12/6)
• Who Will Make the Biggest Splash? (12/3)