Zack Greinke takes stock of Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, free agent pitching market

July 14, 2014 - 1:24 pm

MINNEAPOLIS -- Zack Greinke is the landmark. The right-hander is the primary point of reference for the top of the free agent pitching market, which, this year, means Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. When Greinke arrived at free agency two years ago, he had just turned 29, pitched 1,492 innings and owned a 3.77 career ERA with 8.0 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. He commanded a landmark six-year, $144 million deal from the Dodgers. Lester -- in a more difficult division, but at an older age (30) -- is nearing the open market with a career 3.66 ERA, 8.2 strikeouts and 3.1 walks per nine innings and 1,505 career innings under his belt. So, Greinke's $24 million-a-year haul will undoubtedly be a point of reference for Lester, just as it was for Scherzer and the Tigers when Detroit offered (and Scherzer rejected) a six-year, $144 million offer this spring. "There's a lot more pitchers like me than there are pitchers like [C.C.] Sabathia when he got to the open market and [Clayton] Kershaw if he got to the open market," said Greinke, referencing the left-handers who commanded deals of seven years and $169 million (Sabathia from the Yankees after the 2008 season) and seven years and $215 million (Kershaw from the Dodgers this spring. "It's a lot easier to compare players to my skill level than theirs. Scherzer and Lester, they're fantastic, but they're not, I don't think, at Sabathia's level when he became a free agent, because he was pretty amazing." As a student of the game, Greinke has considered the cases of both Lester and Scherzer. He notes that the months ahead could transform their futures by nine-figure sums. "They're two different ones," said Greinke. "Scherzer has been amazing to me, because he's slowly gotten better every year. Even this year, his velocity has gotten down a little bit, but his ability to pitch has gotten much better. Even though he's an older guy, it seems he's still getting better, which makes him kind of exciting. Lester's had more of an up-and-down career but he's had a longer track record of success than Scherzer. They've both been healthy. It's pretty interesting, those two. And they're both pitching really good right now. "There's still a long time to go with the season. Their contracts could go from $100 million to $200 million or $100 million to $20 million over the next two months, depending on how they pitch, if they're healthy and all that stuff." The fact that Greinke feels that there is basis for comparison between those two has him keenly interested in their performances. After all, he has the right to opt out of his Dodgers deal after the 2015 season, and so he acknowledges that what happens with this year's free-agent-eligible pitchers will impact his own decision about his future. At a time when teams are trying to concentrate their resources in younger players and pitchers, rather than those who are on the wrong side of 30, Lester and Scherzer will both arrive at free agency having left their 20s behind them, yet amidst a run where they remain upper-echelon pitchers. "What happens to Lester and Scherzer will say a lot in that [opt-out] situation, because we'll be similar ages," he noted. "It seems like teams are more interested in paying younger, less-proven guys. ... They're paying more for future performance, where in the past, it seemed like they paid for past performance. So that's one thing tricky in my situation, when you get older. Now, they'll be paying guys according to what they think they'll do for the next five years, not the last five years. That'll be something you'll have to weigh in. ... "It's weird it hasn't always been done that way. It still isn't completely done that way, but it seems that teams are trying to do it more often, and there's more teams refusing to pay for someone that's more on their decline. There's a lot more projecting future talent, it seems like, than how it was in the past."