Zack Grienke, the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market, tells anyone and everyone that he loves to hit.
“He thinks he’s a great athlete,” one former teammate said, all but laughing.
Actually, Greinke is a great athlete; he could have been a first-round pick at five positions, according to one scout who saw him as an amateur.
Well, pitchers hit in the National League, but not the AL.
The question, obviously, is whether the difference between the leagues could influence Greinke’s choice of teams.
“I don’t think it will be very relevant,” one executive said.
Another exec chuckled at the notion that Grienke’s love of hitting would affect a potential $130 million decision.
“Go to the batting cage,” the exec said. “You’ll have plenty of quarters.”
Fair enough — most free agents probably would go for the best offer, and maybe Greinke will, too.
To be sure, hitting does not figure to be at the top of his list of priorities, not for a decision of this magnitude.
Grienke, though, is an individualist. If he chose an NL team, he not only could hit, but also avoid stronger AL lineups.
Not that Greinke struggled after getting traded last July from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Los Angeles Angels — he went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in his return to the AL, where he pitched for the Kansas City Royals from 2004 to ’10.
Then again, if Greinke indeed prefers the NL, teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals will stand a better chance of signing him than AL clubs such as the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers.
Greinke, 29, previously has expressed a desire to pitch for the Atlanta Braves, who train near his home in Orlando. The Braves, however, are not expected to pursue high-priced rotation help this offseason.
As a pitcher, Greinke sports a 3.80 ERA in the AL in 1,197 1/3 career innings, a 3.67 ERA in the NL in 294 2/3.
As a hitter, he sports a career .170 batting average and .493 OPS in 123 plate appearances.
Those offensive numbers probably won’t persuade a team to give Greinke an extra year on his contract, or even an extra $100,000.
Then again, they’re better than the major-league averages by pitchers last season – a .129 BA and .328 OPS.
— Ken Rosenthal