Will the Red Sox make a splash before Opening Day? As part of our “free agency fits” series, we’re examining whether several top players remaining on the open market make sense (or don’t make sense) as Boston builds its roster for the 2022 Major League Baseball season.
Zack Greinke is 38 years old. He’s pitched 18 major league seasons, earning six All-Star selections and winning a Cy Young Award in 2009.
It’s unclear whether Greinke will return for the 2022 campaign, but if he does, the right-hander is an interesting free agent option despite no longer being at the height of his powers. He’s a veteran hurler who still had moderate success with the Houston Astros in 2021, largely because of his ability to reinvent himself in the latter stages of his career.
The Red Sox already added rotation depth this offseason, signing James Paxton, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill before the MLB lockout. But they also lost Eduardo Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers in free agency, and Paxton still is recovering from Tommy John surgery — he won’t be available until later in the year.
As such, Boston could further augment its stable of starting pitchers before Opening Day. And it’s worth examining whether Greinke makes sense for a team with World Series aspirations after reaching the American League Championship Series last season.
Age: 38 (Oct. 21, 1983)
Weight: 200 pounds
30 appearances (29 starts), 171 innings
11-6 record, 4.16 ERA, 120 strikeouts
1.17 WHIP, 4.71 FIP, 103 ERA+
6.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 3.33 K/BB
530 appearances (488 starts), 3,110 innings
219-132 record, 3.41 ERA, 2,809 strikeouts
1.16 WHIP, 3.44 FIP, 123 ERA+
8.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.95 K/BB
Why Greinke makes sense for Red Sox:
Greinke isn’t an ace anymore. His stuff has diminished in recent years, to the point where he’s more reliant on pitching to contact than racking up strikeouts, but he’s still capable of providing quality innings in the middle or back of a big league rotation. There’s obviously great value in that over the course of a long season, especially for a contender, like Boston, that envisions making a deep playoff run.
The Red Sox have a decent amount of arms, with Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi anchoring a rotation that also figures to include some combination of Wacha, Hill, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and/or Garrett Whitlock. Paxton could return down the stretch, as well.
But Sale and Eovaldi both are Tommy John survivors, with the former making just nine regular-season starts in 2021. And the other hurlers come with questions — particularly Houck and Whitlock, two up-and-comers who might slot into Boston’s bullpen to begin 2022. So, the Red Sox certainly would benefit from adding an established veteran with a knack for eating frames, even if Greinke’s days of posting elite ERAs and pitching in the Midsummer Classic are behind him.
Greinke logged 171 innings for the Astros in 2021. He reached that mark in 11 of the 12 seasons immediately preceding the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, totaling at least 200 innings on nine occasions.
Greinke doesn’t have the velocity nor the swing-and-miss potential he had in his prime. But he still can pitch, thanks in large to excellent command, and would upgrade most pitching staffs across MLB — including the Red Sox’s.
Plus, he should be attainable at a reasonable rate, with MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes back in November projecting a one-year, $15 million contract.
Why Greinke doesn’t make sense for Red Sox:
Simply put, Greinke might not have much left in the tank. He’s regressed since his most recent All-Star season in 2019, even dealing with neck soreness last season, and pitching in a hitter-friendly environment probably won’t do him any favors.
Greinke owns a 10.22 ERA (14 earned runs over 12 1/3 innings) in four career regular-season appearances (three starts) at Fenway Park. He’s also struggled at Yankee Stadium (9.82 ERA in 11 innings), Rogers Centre (5.27 ERA in 41 innings) and Tropicana Field (4.45 ERA in 32 1/3 innings), suggesting that navigating the AL East could prove troublesome.
The Red Sox are better off aiming higher, even if means making a more substantial financial investment in a younger pitcher with a less extensive track record.
Verdict: Not a fit.
Prediction: Greinke signs with the Atlanta Braves.