Zack Greinke's contract could affect Dodgers' pursuit of free-agent pitcher

Zack Greinke's contract could affect Dodgers' pursuit of free-agent pitcher
Dodgers starter Zack Greinke delivers a pitch during Game 2 of the National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals in October. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

As the first day of baseball's winter meetings came to a close Monday night, Jon Lester was believed to be close to deciding where he'll pitch next season. At first glance, the Dodgers looked like one of his most logical destinations.

The Dodgers are in search of a starting pitcher. They say they can still afford to make a major move. And they wouldn't have to forfeit their first-round pick in the draft next year if they sign Lester.


That doesn't mean they will.

The Dodgers' short- and long-term plans for their rotation will have to consider the contractual status of Zack Greinke.

Greinke is heading for the third year of a six-year, $147-million contract. The deal includes a clause that permits Greinke to become a free agent at the end of next season.

Lester and Max Scherzer, the other top pitcher on the free-agent market, figure to sign for at least as much as Greinke did. That being the case, the Dodgers might prefer to wait and see what Greinke does before committing another $150 million or so to their rotation.

Greinke is still owed $94 million over the next four seasons. Clayton Kershaw is guaranteed $194 million over the next six.

If Greinke doesn't exercise his escape clause and the Dodgers add Lester or Scherzer this off-season, the team would have more than $400 million tied into three pitchers. Such a concentration of assets could make some Dodgers executives uncomfortable. Remember, it was owner Mark Walter who once said, "Pitchers break."

And if Greinke leaves next off-season, the Dodgers would be able to turn to a free-agent market that figures to be abundant with pitching. That free-agent class will include David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister.

Of course, that wouldn't address the Dodgers' need of another starter for next season.

While Kershaw, Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren are under contract, they remain one pitcher short of a five-man rotation.

"I think we definitely want to figure out how to add at least one more arm from the outside, whether that be via trade or free agency," said Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations.

The most attractive pitcher who could be available in a trade is probably Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hamels' contract calls for him to be paid $100 million over the next four seasons. He turns 31 next month.

The left-hander's contract includes a partial no-trade clause, but the Dodgers aren't among the teams to which he could block a trade.

However, there is a significant obstacle. The Dodgers have a weak farm system and, as a result, are reluctant to part with the caliber of prospects the Phillies would demand.

Free-agent alternatives include right-hander James Shields, who led the Kansas City Royals to the World Series.

Shields, who attended Newhall Hart High, turns 33 this month and would presumably sign a shorter contract than Lester or Scherzer.

Another possibility is former Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched for the New York Yankees for the last three years.

Kuroda, who turns 40 in February, has pitched under one-year contracts for the last four years. If he decides to pitch in the major leagues next year, he is expected to do so under another one-year deal.

The danger in hiring a one-year pitcher is that it sets up a potentially hectic off-season next year. With Greinke possibly departing and Haren's contract expiring at the end of next season, the Dodgers could be forced to look for as many as three starting pitchers next off-season.

Matt Kemp update

The San Diego Padres are confident they can acquire Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, according to people familiar with the team's thinking.

In exchange for Kemp, the Padres are believed to be offering a package that includes Yasmani Grandal, a 26-year-old catcher who tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2012. He served a 50-game suspension in 2013.

The Dodgers would presumably cover a portion of the $107 million Kemp is owed over the next five seasons.

Friedman wouldn't address Kemp's situation but made clear he had no problems making trades with division rivals.

"For me, there are 29 other trade outlets," Friedman said. "To cut off four of them makes our job even more difficult."