How Cole Hamels will decide Zack Greinke’s future

Detroit Free Press

By Nathan Petrashek

With the loss last night, the Brewers more or less became sellers at the trade deadline.  We should see Francisco Rodriguez, George Kottaras, Shaun Marcum (if healthy), and even Randy Wolf heading for other teams by July 31.

But the big question: Will Zack Greinke be among them?

Greinke has a 5-year, $100M+ (reports are that the offer falls somewhere around $110M) offer on the table from the Brewers.  That’s no doubt a lot of money to walk away from, but players on the cusp of free agency have frequently turned down such offers before.  Prince Fielder and C.C. Sabathia, for example, were both offered similar contracts and opted instead to test free agency, where they earned monster deals.  C.C. Sabathia went on to sign a record contract with the Yankees at 7 years and $161M.  The deal included an opt-out clause that went unexercised, adding another year and $30M to his deal.  Prince Fielder, of course, moved on to the Detroit Tigers this offseason, somehow working them for a 10-year, $214M contract.  In case you were wondering, that’s enough dough to buy 107 million Krispy Kreme Donuts.

There’s the rub.  As it stands right now, the market for Greinke is not going to be similar to that of Sabathia or Fielder.  Most had Greinke pegged as a 5-year, $85M+ guy heading into the season, at least until Matt Cain’s astonishing extension this April reshaped the pitching market.  Cain received the third-biggest contract for a pitcher at 6-years and $127M, although only 5 years and $112M of that was new money.  That certainly upped the ante for Greinke, though.  Most now expect him to sign something close to the Brewers’ offer.  Some writers think Greinke may be worth a Matt Cain deal, but there is a good chance that some GMs see him as worth less because of his performance history and anxiety issues.  I would tend to agree that there is more risk to signing Greinke than there would to signing Matt Cain, but, as Fielder showed, it only takes one owner that thinks differently.

“As it stands right now” is a pretty big caveat, though.  The wild card is Cole Hamels, who would almost certainly be more coveted than Greinke as a free agent.  The Phillies are pushing hard to resign the left-handed ace, and have reportedly offered a 6-year deal in the low $140M range.  While that really shouldn’t shock anyone (that’s probably close to what Hamels would pull down in free agency), it doesn’t bode well for the Brewers chances of signing Greinke to an extension.  If Hamels signs, Greinke becomes the top free agent pitcher, and that label might very well get him to 6 years and $130M.

The ball is really in Greinke’s court, though I doubt he’ll sign an extension.  It appears likely that Hamels will sign with the Phillies, meaning Greinke is in a good position to achieve a 6-year deal worth more than $125M on the free agent market, well in excess of what the Brewers are offering.  Perhaps the Brewers can get creative and include an opt-out and some vesting options, but even that may not be enough to entice the righty Cy Young winner.  And the Brewers still have to think about having enough money to remain competitive in one of baseball’s smallest markets.

Shades of 2008

The Brewers dropped the finale of the four-game series against the Pirates yesterday, only their fifth loss of the month.  Shaun Marcum was the hard-luck loser, as he held the Pirates to two runs over six innings, but the Brewers just couldn’t get anything going on offense.

Thankfully, the Dodgers finished off a sweep of the Cardinals, and the Brewers still possess a commanding ten-game lead in the NL Central.  They’ve won eighteen of their August games and have just five left to play, including a series against the hated Cubs.  Not to shabby for a team that started the month up only two and a half games.

All of this got me reflecting on another historic Brewers August.

The 2008 Brewers started August off on the wrong foot.  They rode a five-game losing streak coming into the month, including a devastating four-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs at Miller Park.  During that stretch, the Crew watched the division begin to slip away, dropping from one game back to five.

The team’s fortunes began to turn during a 4-2 roadtrip to Atlanta and Cincinnati to begin the month.  The road was pretty nice to the Brewers that August, as the team compiled a 11-6 record during visits to those cities, San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. On August 13, 2008, the Brewers broke the 70-win mark in a 7-1 win over the Padres.  C.C. Sabathia was the winning pitcher, giving up nine hits in seven innings but allowing only one run to score.  The Brewers rounded out their August road games in style with a sweep of the Pirates on the last day of the month.  The winning pitcher?  Again, C.C. Sabathia, in what might be the most memorable one-hitter in Brewers history. With the victory, the Brewers had 80 wins on the season and sat 4.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs.

Sabathia was lights out the entire month of August.  He did not lose a game, compiling a 5-0 record en route to a 1.12 ERA.  Sabathia struck out 51 and walked only 8, while limiting opposing hitters to .223.  He also gave the bullpen some relief, throwing complete games three times, twice at home.

Like their 2011 counterparts, there was no place like home for the August 2008 Brewers.  Playing to sellout audiences the entire month, the Crew turned in a 9-1 home record, including sweeps of the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The team ended the month with a 20-7 record, aided by Sabathia, Jeff Suppan (5-0, 3.00 ERA), and Salomon Torres (6 SV, .84 ERA).

While August 2008 was one to remember, September of that year was just as forgettable.  The Brewers went 10-16 that month, barely winning the NL Wild Card despite a 90-win season.  The quality of the starting rotation this year should prevent the kind of September swoon the Brewers endured in 2008, though.  In 2011, there’s a pretty good chance the Brewers can continue their winning ways all the way into the playoffs.

Magic Number Watch:  22