Dodgers agree to $147M deal with Zack Greinke

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Determined to alter the course of a stagnant franchise, bankrolled by what is expected to be a precedent-setting television contract and encouraged by new ownership to build bigger and better, the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday reached an agreement in principle to sign free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke for $147 million over six years, pending the results of his physical.

Already having acquired nearly $300 million in contracts mid-summer in Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett, extended Andre Ethier’s contract by $85 million and just over a year ago re-upped Matt Kemp for $160 million, the Dodgers have become the economic Goliaths of baseball.

Bound for years by the mismanagement and personal gluttony of Frank McCourt, who ultimately declared bankruptcy, the Dodgers under an ownership of Mark Walter and Magic Johnson are expected to have the highest payroll in baseball by a wide margin. The New York Yankees had held that distinction for some 15 years running.

The latest addition apparently will be Greinke, to a rotation that starts with Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in the National League over the past two seasons. And the Dodgers still seek another starting pitcher.

Greinke had been considering the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels as well. He’d recently visited all three clubs – the Dodgers and Angels in L.A., the Rangers in Florida, where he resides – and apparently came away very comfortable with Colletti and manager Don Mattingly. The Dodgers were impressed by Greinke’s demeanor and intellect.

[Also: Michael Young agrees to trade to Phillies]

Greinke, 29, was 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 2012, which he split between the Milwaukee Brewers and Angels. Over the past two seasons, he was 31-11 with a 3.63 ERA. He is consistently among the leaders in strikeouts-to-walk ratio.

Smart and aggressive, Greinke has thrown at least 202 innings in four of the past five seasons, including in 2009, when he was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner as a Kansas City Royal.

In the lead-up to his signing with the Dodgers, speculation had Greinke challenging the largest contract for a pitcher in history – CC Sabathia’s seven-year, $161 million deal with the New York Yankees – and certainly the largest ever for a right-hander pitcher, that being Matt Cain’s six-year, $127.5 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

At $147 million in total value, Greinke’s contract is the second-largest ever for a pitcher and the 14th-largest – just behind Miguel Cabrera’s $152.3 million and ahead of Cole Hamels’ $144 million – among all players. In average annual value, just over $24.5 million, the contract ranks fifth all-time.

Kershaw is under team control for two more seasons and, barring health setbacks, could fetch more than Greinke either in a contract extension or in free agency. The Dodgers have not yet initiated talks with Kershaw’s agency, Excel, which also represents Greinke.

[Also: Brandon McCarthy signing sets up Diamondbacks for potentially bigger move]

Greinke brought more than talent and statistics to free agency, however. He missed most of the 2006 season in Kansas City while suffering from depression and a social anxiety disorder. He later said he nearly quit the game. He appeared to regain his emotional footing in 2007 and '08, and by '09 was widely considered to be the foremost pitcher in the game. Increasingly unhappy in Kansas City, where the team was losing nearly 100 games every season, Greinke was traded to Milwaukee. The Brewers hoped to sign Greinke to a long-term contract. When that failed, they traded him last summer to the Angels for three prospects.

Introverted and circumspect, Greinke was believed to be seeking not every last dime in free agency, but comfort and familiarity. Reports suggested Greinke would be unhappy in large, media-hungry cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago, perhaps even Los Angeles. He appeared to enjoy his two months in Anaheim, however, and the Angels hoped he would return. A curiosity over his 13 starts for the Angels was an adherence to a somewhat strict pitch count, typically in the 110 range. Greinke refused to discuss the strategy and whether it was his idea or the club’s. Angels manager Mike Scioscia also was vague on the topic.

Still, Greinke was exceptional down the stretch for the Angels. In his final eight starts he was 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA.

He rode that into a winter in which there were no other elite starting pitchers in free agency and with several well-off franchises – both teams in Los Angeles, the Rangers and Washington Nationals – in the market for pitching. Flush with new ownership and the promise of the largest television deal in baseball history, the Dodgers sought a starter to slot after their own ace, Kershaw. The Angels traded away Ervin Santana and declined the 2013 option on Dan Haren’s contract, creating a hole in their rotation. The Rangers required an ace to lead their young-ish rotation, as did the Nationals. Greinke’s former teams – the Brewers and Royals – also were thought to have some interest, but weren’t likely to muster bids competitive with the others.

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