Greinke headlines starting pitchers on open market
Free-agent right-hander figures to command big deal despite limited number of suitors
If it's a capable middle- or back-end starter you seek, free agency presents several intriguing options this year.
But if it's a sure-shot ace you're looking for, there is only one: Zack Greinke.
This year's free-agent crop of starters can be summed up very simply as Greinke and everyone else. He's head and shoulders above the others, with a Cy Young Award in his back pocket, health on his track record, explosive stuff in his arsenal and age 29 on his bio page.
As such, Greinke will command a nine-figure deal, with five years and roughly $120 million seemingly being a popular notion.
The question is: Who will offer it to him?
Things can change frequently in the fluid world of free agency, and there is always a surprise or two, but right now the market for Greinke seems rather thin, perhaps partly because his social-anxiety disorder may take the big markets of New York and Boston out of the picture.
The Angels, who acquired him from Milwaukee in late July with the hope that he'd warm up to Southern California, will be one of his prime suitors. So will the Rangers, who missed out on Greinke at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July and are expected to make him a priority once the Angels' exclusive negotiating window ends Friday at midnight ET.
But who else?
The Dodgers certainly could, but they took on a lot of money by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox in August.
The Nationals might, but their rotation is already stacked.
The Braves, long seen as an ideal suitor given that they reside in the National League and are close to his central Florida home? Don't count on it. Kris Medlen's second-half dominance and Mike Minor's second-half turnaround negated the need to spend big on Greinke.
His two former teams, the Brewers and Royals? Unlikely.
No other candidates seem to be evident.
Still, though, surprise suitors will spring up. Greinke is just too good for that not to happen.
Over the past five years, the right-hander has compiled 70 wins while posting a 3.39 ERA, striking out almost nine batters per nine innings and averaging 207 innings per season. In 2012, Greinke went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 34 starts with the Brewers and Angels, topping 210 innings and 200 strikeouts for the third time in four years. He had a 2.04 ERA in his last eight starts.
Greinke's recently hired agent, Casey Close, didn't return calls seeking comment about his star client and Greinke didn't want to address pending free agency all year, saying: "I just don't think there's a winning situation in talking about it."
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto holds the same opinion, but he did acknowledge that the Greinke sweepstakes will probably last well into the winter. And as an industry source put it, "If [the Angels] think he's going to give them a team-friendly deal, they're wrong."
Greinke is a big-time pitcher, and he'll cost big-time money.
If that's too rich for your blood, here's the rest of what free agency could offer ...
The second tier: These may not be guys to build a staff around, but they definitely provide quality for the middle of a rotation. There are plenty of them in this free-agent class. The best one, perhaps, is 34-year-old Kyle Lohse, who went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and isn't expected to return to St. Louis.
There's also Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Hisashi Iwakuma and Shaun Marcum. The White Sox's Jake Peavy ($22 million) and Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million), and the Angels' Dan Haren ($15.5 million) and Ervin Santana ($13 million) could join them if their teams decline their 2013 options.
The third tier: This is a rather eclectic mix. There are pitchers like Joe Blanton and Daisuke Matsuzaka coming off bloated contracts. There are veterans such as Roy Oswalt and Joe Saunders who may have something left in the tank. There are former stars such as Francisco Liriano and Carlos Zambrano and perennial fringe guys like Erik Bedard, Carl Pavano, Chris Young and Kevin Correia. The Braves' Paul Maholm ($6.5 million) and the Indians' Roberto Hernandez ($6 million) could join them if their options are declined.
The scrap heap: This is the bottom of the barrel, consisting of pitchers who will probably sign late and may get no better than a Minor League contract. Looking to create competition in camp, increase organizational depth, add a swing guy or perhaps just take a chance at a bargain rate? Look here. This is home to the likes of Aaron Cook, Bartolo Colon, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Jeremy Guthrie, Derek Lowe, Jason Marquis and Chien-Ming Wang.
They're a far cry from Greinke. But that can probably be said about the entire free-agent class.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.