Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke's price tag on the rise

Zack Greinke, and his majors-best 1.56 earned-run average, can walk into free agency after this season

As the season dawned, it was easy to imagine the Dodgers letting Zack Greinke walk away in free agency. They still might, but that decision has become incredibly more challenging for the Dodgers' new front office.

Greinke has done his part. He leads the National League with a 1.56 earned-run average.

Circumstances have done their part too. With Brandon McCarthy recovering from Tommy John surgery and Hyun-Jin Ryu's vanishing velocity raising suspicions about a significant injury, the Dodgers might well. This is the complete list of the members of the opening-day rotation healthy and under control for next season:

Clayton Kershaw.

Greinke turns 32 in October. He can opt out of his contract, which would mean forfeiting three years and $71 million in the hope of a longer and more lucrative deal in free agency. 

The Dodgers did not discuss an extension with him last winter. His current contract -- assuming he does not opt out -- extends through age 34. The Dodgers' ownership is reluctant to add long-term contracts that carry a player beyond 36, and Greinke has had mild elbow issues in each of the last two years.

But Greinke, in his 12th major league season, never has been on the disabled list with an arm injury. And amid the ongoing roster manipulations of the new front office, the Dodgers have yet to identify a long-term replacement for McCarthy or Ryu.

The season has five months to play out. The Dodgers might yet discover a reliable starting pitcher within their organization. They might trade for a Cole Hamels, or a Johnny Cueto, or a Kyle Lohse. They might even get Ryu back this season.

For now, though, Greinke and his agent, Casey Close, are sitting prettier than either might have imagined one month ago. If you become more of a necessity and less of a luxury to the team with the highest payroll in sports history, you are in a mighty fine spot indeed.

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