The question did not seem unreasonable. Are the Dodgers trying to bring back Zack Greinke?
"That's the buzzword that sends me running out of this room," Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi said Tuesday.
Greinke is a free agent. There can be no tampering.
No matter, at least not to Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. The players' union might frown on the greatest-spending team in sports history saying it does — or does not — want to spend on Greinke.
"It affects his market," Friedman said.
That, and the folks in Dodgers management would prefer you had no idea what they might be up to, if only in an effort to keep every other team guessing. That, and Casey Close, the agent for Greinke, says nothing about contract talks and strongly prefers that bidding teams say nothing as well.
But this answer was so obvious — the need so glaring, the fit so snug — that one of the owners of the team stood about a dozen feet from Friedman and stood up for the fans.
"We all want him back," Magic Johnson said.
Greinke is coming off a season in which he put up the lowest earned-run average — 1.66 — of any major league starter in 20 years.
"He is our priority — our No. 1 priority in the off-season," Johnson said. "We are going to put in our bid, just like I'm sure other teams will. He's our priority. We like that 1-2 punch that we have with him and Clayton [Kershaw].
"So we have a lot of resources, yes, and we are using those resources to make our team better."
The question took on a sense of urgency because when the Dodgers gathered in the morning to introduce Dave Roberts as their new manager, there were two elite pitchers available in free agency. When the Dodgers turned out the lights and took down the stage in the afternoon, that inventory was down to one.
David Price agreed to sign with the Boston Red Sox, for seven years and $217 million. That leaves Greinke, and a plentiful list of starters in the non-elite class.
Price averages $31 million a season in his deal. Kershaw averages $31 million in his.
Greinke is 32, two years older than Price. A deal that spans seven years would be unlikely for him. A deal that averages $32 million would not be.
It was widely reported Tuesday that the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants appeared to be the finalists for Greinke. The consensus was that Greinke would sign for five or six years.
Greinke spoke highly of the Dodgers all season. He knew how good Corey Seager might be three years ago, when Seager had not advanced past rookie ball. He wants to know how good his teammates will be over the course of his deal; the Dodgers have one of the top five farm systems in the major leagues and the Giants one of the bottom five, according to Baseball America.
The Dodgers' starting rotation as of now: Kershaw, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood, with Hyun-Jin Ryu hoping to come back from shoulder surgery this spring, Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias as place holders, and Brandon McCarthy hoping to come back from elbow surgery after the All-Star break.
That might not look imposing, but the Giants' website does not even list five starters on the team depth chart. There is Madison Bumgarner, an ace in every sense of the word. There is Matt Cain, who had a 5.79 ERA last season. There is Chris Heston, who tired at the end of a solid rookie season. And there is Jake Peavy, who turns 35 in May.
Greinke could well tilt the balance of power in the National League West. The Dodgers are right to be concerned about signing a pitcher into his late 30s, but they ought to be just as concerned about losing a guy that could keep them out of the playoffs. By the time Greinke breaks down — if indeed he does — one of the Dodgers' recent Latin American signings should be primed to step in as a cost-effective replacement.
This might all be a smokescreen, the Dodgers using the sound of their mighty financial footsteps to get the Giants to up their bid on Greinke, just as the Dodgers forced the Giants to up their bid on Jon Lester last winter.
But, after a winter in which the Dodgers passed on signing Lester and Max Scherzer, and after a summer in which the Dodgers passed on trading for Price, Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto, this would be a good time for the Dodgers to land the big fish, instead of just scaring the other teams fishing.
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