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Zack Greinke, highest paid pitcher in baseball history?

Dec 5, 2012, 3:40 PM EDT

greinke angels getty Getty Images

As the Dodgers and Rangers reportedly battle over Zack Greinke the latest from’s Jon Heyman is that there’s a “strong belief by people close to situation” that Greinke “can beat” the $161 million CC Sabathia got from the Yankees.

In other words, Greinke could be the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.

Here are the current biggest contracts of all time for pitchers:

CC Sabathia – $161 million
Cole Hamels – $144 million
Johan Santana – $137.5 million
Matt Cain – $127.5 million
Barry Zito – $126 million

It always seemed all but certain that Greinke would get into the $125 million-plus club and for the past month or so most of the speculation has started in the six-year, $150 million range, so topping $161 million doesn’t seem so crazy in that context.

And, realistically, with revenue skyrocketing and player salaries rising every offseason each new ace starting pitcher to hit the open market at a relatively young age–Greinke just turned 29 years old–has a pretty good chance to become the highest-paid pitcher of all time.

  1. fhuizar - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    This is what a very shallow FA SP market will do

    Ridiculous. Lets see who’s dumb enough to pay that

    Im sorry but he’s not worth 160+

    • pinkfloydprism - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      He will never get that money… OK, he might… but it would have to be a large market team, and we all know how much he loves large markets.

    • dkolesky - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      No pitcher is worth that much $$$…

      • sdelmonte - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:31 PM

        No human being is worth that much $$$.

    • djpostl - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:04 PM


      I think you could spend quite a bit less and bring Edwin Jackson & Anibal Sanchez into your rotation.

      You’d get about 400 IP of 3.50-4.00 ERA production out of the pair.

      Greinke has been good, with flashes of great, over the years but nowhere near dominant enough for me to roll the dice on that kind of a deal.

      That being said, Colleti will probably give him like 180M just by bidding against himself lol.

    • missthemexpos - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:21 PM

      Timing is everything when it comes to your walk year in MLB these days.

  2. djpostl - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Greinke is a very good pitcher but the fact he may land the biggest contract ever handed out to a hurler is ridiculous.

    One phenomenal year, one God-awful year and a bunch that fall in between “good” and “okay” is a pretty accurate summary of his resume.

    That isn’t to say he won’t be a very good pitcher going forward but there is no reason to suspect he’ll be the HoF kind of caliber player that deal would need to be justified.

    • Gardenhire's Cat - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:56 PM


    • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:37 PM

      The market is changing fast. In the recent past, he would indeed have had to pitch like a HoF caliber pitcher to justify that kind of deal. In the current or future market, $160 million might turn out to be a fair price. I don’t know, but it’s possible. The going rate changes over time, and right now the going rate for even good-but-not-great free agent pitchers like Greinke is going up fast. They’re a scarce commodity in a market with a lot of demand for them and a lot of ability (thanks to new or expected TV money) to pay for them.

      • djpostl - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:25 PM

        Yeah. Market dynamics come into play but I’d still take that cash and sign both Sanchez & Jackson before I’d spend it on Greinke.

        An astronomical overpay is an astronomical overpay any way you slice it.

  3. echech88 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    This offseason reminds me of 2 recent offseasons: the one where Soriano and Zito got what were at the time HUGE contracts and a couple years ago when Werth and Crawford’s contracts really skyrocketed past industry expectations.

    I know revenue streams are growing but this still feels like one of those years we’ll look back on and be like “Anibal Sanchez got paid WHAT?”

  4. qcubed3 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    So a guy who has social anxiety disorder is going to be the highest paid pitcher in history, and you think he’s going to be able to live up to that kind of pressure? Man, I’m glad I’m not the one signing the checks . . . then again, the guy signing the checks is filthy rich and owns a baseball team . . .

    • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:53 PM

      So a guy who has social anxiety disorder is going to be able to stand alone on a mound in front of tens of thousands of people in a hostile stadium, plus many more watching on tv, throw baseballs at 90+ MPH to a tiny target over 60 feet away without allowing them to be hit by the best hitters in the world, and then afterwards have to answer questions from reporters about it, and have many thousands of people complain if he doesn’t do it well? And then go do it again, every few days for 6 months? And then do all *that* again every year for years? Unpossible! No way that’ll ever…oh, wait.

      Let me suggest that no one commenting on this blog knows *anything* about what it takes to cope psychologically with pitching in the major leagues. Especially not anyone who thinks that Zac Greinke, or any major leaguer, feels extra pressure because of his *salary*.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:10 PM

        Jeremy Fox – You hit the nail on the head. Well done, sir. Did you happen to see the article on Baseball Prospectus about Greinke (and Josh Hamilton) and their mental illness issues? I think you’d like it.

      • pauleee - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:50 PM

        An increase in salary brings extra pressure to people of all walks of life. You just got a raise, your boss expects you to live up to that raise (that bastard) and you’d better shine or the next time things get tight, your ass is in the chute. Now imagine you’re under the microscope as a pitcher in the MLB.

        Oh wait, that’s right. These guys just stop caring when they get that huge contract.

      • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:00 PM

        Lordy, did you think for two seconds before you typed that?

        First of all, MLB contracts are mostly *guaranteed*. If your boss decides you aren’t doing your job well and fires you, you lose your salary. If Greinke’s boss decides he’s not doing his job well and releases him, *he still gets paid*.

        Second of all, *Greinke already has a huge salary by any ordinary standard*. He already gets paid more money per year than most people will ever make in a lifetime. Indeed, unless he lives a really spendthrift lifestyle and has invested very badly, he’s already set for life. But you think that if his salary goes up *even higher* that he’s suddenly going to feel pressure *that he has no reason to feel* (remember, his contract is guaranteed and he’s already set for life!) and forget how to pitch? Why not argue the opposite–that he’ll fail to earn his money because he’ll feel no pressure at all, and so get lazy?

      • seeinred87 - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM

        @david – Nice, I like the love for Baseball Therapy. It’s my 2nd fav thing on BP (behind everything Sam Miller does).

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 5, 2012 at 7:58 PM

        Let me suggest that no one commenting on this blog knows *anything* about what it takes to cope psychologically with pitching in the major leagues

        Agree with everything you wrote, except this. There actually is a former major league pitcher who occasionally comments on here. A few of us long time commentors know who he is, and Craig can confirm it as it’s not my place to out him (although his user name is first initial/last name).

      • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 8:02 PM

        Ok, I stand corrected: one person who comments here knows something about what it takes to cope psychologically with pitching in the major leagues.

  5. uyf1950 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Zack Greinke could be one of the most hyped, overrated pitchers I’ve seen on the sports blogs. I honestly feel any team that signs him for anywhere those types of dollars is going to be sorry. Just my opinion.

    • echech88 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:04 PM

      True-ish…but that’s not really his fault that he is the only “ace” on the market at a time when the Winter Meetings are really becoming this huge media event through sites like this, MLB Network, Twitter, etc.

      If Cain, Hamels and Votto had reached free agency he’d almost be an afterthought and looking at a contract probably $80M less

      • uyf1950 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:06 PM

        Not blaming him at all. And I agree with you about if Hamels and Cain were FA.

      • djpostl - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:14 PM

        Yeah, but some times you have to say no lol.

        Imagine what you’re going to have to pay Kershaw if you fork out that kind of money for a guy who is nowhere near as good…and no Greinke is NOT anywhere near as good as Clayton.

        Agon’s deal is an overpay, Eithier’s is too. Beckett, that ugly Crawford deal, then Greinke and Kershaw back-to-back…my Lord.

        Yes they have a big TV deal coming in but that will eventually catch up to you.

        COTS has them pegged at 198M right now…no Greinke & only accounting for 17 roster spots lol.

        Lilly comes off the books after 2014, Beckett & Hanley after 2015 so any sort of payroll flexibility to stop the bleeding from luxury tax payouts is years off.

        Just seems like it has bad idea written all over it for anyone but especially the Dodgers.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:34 PM

        dj, that big TV deal is 240-260 million per year. Even if Kershaw and Greinke are making 25 mil per year, that’s an extra 39 million ( Clayton is already on the books for 11 next year). That takes the team payroll just about to the bottom edge of the suspected TV contract. That means they still have all of their ticket revenue, merchandise revenue, sponsorship revenue, etc to cover other costs and fill out a roster that’s mostly complete and should be competitive. The Dodgers can and should spend to sign Greinke.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:44 PM

        david, I think for forgot to include a major expense the new owners of the Dodgers have. The interest and principle payments on the $2.2 billion dollar purchase of the team. I have to think that’s a pretty good chunk of change every year. And let’s not forget Uncle Sam the State of California and the City of Los Angeles they are all going to want their little piece of the tax pie.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:02 PM

        uyf, Guggenheim bought the Dodgers in an all-cash deal. No debt, therefore no principal and interest payments (although they do have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to make a return on the investment). And the more the Dodgers spend on business expenses, the lower profits they’ll show, and therefore the lower their income tax will be.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:12 PM

        David, thank you for correcting me. I’m just curios how the policy holders of the insurance companies feel about using that money to buy a baseball team.
        And when all is said and done the owners still must make money and like the accountants say see a nice ROI.

      • koufaxmitzvah - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:25 PM

        Dodgers also make heavy income by entering foreign markets like Mexico (w/ Gonzalez) and potentially Korea (with Ryu). I imagine there are quite a few Gonzalez jerseys being sold in Mexcio City this holidy season.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:31 PM

        uyf, I’m betting the policyholders don’t give a damn, as long as their insurance is paid out when it’s due. The shareholders who want to see profits are probably ecstatic, since a baseball team in a large media market with a national fan base can rake in tons of money.

  6. paperlions - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    Yeah, these kinds of contracts are fantastic ideas, they always work out.

    CC Sabathia – $161 million – so far so good
    Cole Hamels – $144 million – Hasn’t started
    Johan Santana – $137.5 million – Disaster
    Matt Cain – $127.5 million – Just started
    Barry Zito – $126 million – Borderline disaster
    Mike Hampton – $121 million – complete disaster
    Cliff Lee – $120 million – Good so far
    Kevin Brown – $105 million – Not too bad when he pitched (~70% healthy)

  7. APBA Guy - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    I wonder if Michael Weiner has a note to himself: ” Next contract, raise the luxury tax ceiling.”

  8. Caught Looking - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    If he does sign a huge contract, that alone will exacerbate his anxiety issues. Buyer beware.

    • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:15 PM

      Um, it’s *social* anxiety disorder. I know nothing about it–and neither do you, I’ll bet–but if I had to guess I’d say it’s called “social” anxiety (as opposed to, say, “salary” anxiety) for a reason.

  9. Carl Hancock - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Not worth it.

  10. richyballgame - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    He won’t be able to live up to the gargantuan contract. And I completely agree with DJ, if Greinke gets $160 million+, imagine what Kershaw will fetch on the market.

  11. davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    I don’t think Greinke will be the highest paid pitcher in baseball for very long… In fact, if things play out the way they look like they might, he won’t even be the highest paid pitcher on his own team for very long…

    Clayton Kershaw is going to get an extension from the Dodgers in the next year or so.

    • lew24 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:30 PM

      @Davidpom50….100 percent correct!

      Timing is everything!

    • paperlions - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:31 PM

      …which should make the Dodgers very cautious, shouldn’t it? Because every dollar they bid is really $2+…because there is no way Kershaw doesn’t sign for more $ than Greinke.

      • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:04 PM

        You’re not wrong, but their revenues are going to be so damn high that they can afford to sign both.

      • paperlions - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:28 PM


  12. bambam4 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    Not worth it – only pitcher on the list worth the money is CC. Any GM that agrees to pay Greinke more than Sabathia deserves to be fired.

    • davidpom50 - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      You can’t really compare Sabathia’s ’08 contract to whatever Greinke gets in ’12. The massive TV deals being handed out have caused RAPID inflation, AND there’s no other top notch pitcher available. If Sabathia was on the market today, he’d get more than Greinke. If Cain and Hamels had hit free agency, Greinke would get less than he will without them on the market.

      • Jeremy Fox - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        Glad someone on this thread finally pointed this out. Inflation is key here. I mean, back in the early 1980s Mike Schmidt was the highest paid player in baseball at about $2 million/year. Is pretty much every player in baseball today except maybe Mike Trout overpaid because his annual salary is more than Schmidt’s? Or go back even further–was even Schmidt overpaid because he made way more than Babe Ruth?

        I don’t really know how much any given team ought to pay for Greinke (he’s worth more to some teams than others, depending on those teams’ other needs, how close they are to contending, etc.). But $160 million or whatever in today’s market isn’t necessarily an “overpay” just because it’s more than other pitchers got previously.

      • paperlions - Dec 5, 2012 at 5:30 PM

        People have been talking about contract inflation since ARod signed his deal 12 years ago….it still hasn’t happened. In general, there is too much risk associated with tying up so much money in one player for so long.

  13. vallewho - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    I don’t think he’s even worth a 125 mil contract.

  14. gosuhgo - Dec 5, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    I shudder as a Tigers fan to think of what the Verlander contract will look like.

  15. rangermania - Dec 5, 2012 at 7:42 PM

    There are a growing number of dumb teams led by the Giants who paid Zito as much as 6 million per win, The Yankees who paid CC at a rate of 1.5 million per win, and the Mets paying Santana as much as 4 million per win and the P hillies who will be paying Hamels approximately 1 mill per win unless he wins 20 or better. The Red Sox and Dodgers will be joining that list shortly as the top prospects are only average at best. That’s a product of our times – teams with more money than brains.

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