Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14

Zack Greinke is putting himself in a great situation. Not only is the 28-year-old Milwaukee Brewers’ ace dominating hitters again, he’s doing it in a contract year. With the Brewers allegedly suspending contract talks with Greinke just last month, it looks like Greinke might take his chance on the free-agent market.

If Greinke were to hit free-agency, he and Cole Hamels would be the two most-sought-after starters. The Brewers have said they are willing to sign Greinke to a long-term extension — but based on recent pitcher deals — Greinke may price himself out of their budget.

Since breaking into the league in 2004, Greinke has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. During his career, Greinke has accumulated 32.7 WAR — which makes him the ninth-best pitcher during that period. But Greinke also carries a bit of a stigma: In his sophomore season, Greinke slumped badly and ended his season with a 5.80 ERA. During the spring of 2006, it was revealed that Greinke had been dealing with a social anxiety disorder and depression. He pitched just 6.1 innings that year.

Even with those struggles, Greinke’s overall performance has been impressive. Using our leaderboards, we can compare Greinke to similar pitchers during recent years. Greinke’s WAR total puts him in elite company. The chart only sorts pitchers through their age-28 seasons — since that’s when Greinke will hit the free-agent market. And because Greinke just entered his age-28 season, his WAR total should rise before he hits the market.

The top player on the list, CC Sabathia, is actually a pretty decent comparison for Greinke. Both players made their major league debuts at 20 years old, and both hit free-agency around the same age (Sabathia was 27, Greinke will be 28). That off-season, Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the New York Yankees. Greinke wasn’t as good as Sabathia during those early years, but he was comparable.

Greinke compares even more favorably to Johan Santana. Even though Santana wasn’t a full-time player until he was 23, both players have produced nearly the same amount of value through their age-28 seasons. If Greinke can muster a 5 WAR season this year, he’ll actually have produced more value than Santana by the time he hits the market. Santana — who reached free-agency at his age-28 season — received a six-year, $137.5 million contract with the New York Mets.

The two players immediately below Greinke — Justin Verlander and Roy Oswalt — signed extensions with their clubs and never reached free-agency. While their deals aren’t comparable to what Greinke will make, they give us a good idea of why players test the market. Even though all three pitchers put up comparable numbers, Verlander made $80 million while Oswalt made $73 million.

The last two interesting names on the list are Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Cain recently signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension with the San Francisco Giants. Many analysts think Greinke will use that deal as a benchmark during his negotiations. While Lincecum hasn’t signed a big extension yet, he’s rumored to have turned down a five-year, $100 million offer from the Giants.

Since Cain’s deal was an extension, it’s reasonable that Greinke would expect to make more on the open market. While we don’t know exactly what kind of deal Lincecum is seeking, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Greinke was after the same contract. The Sabathia and Santana contracts give us an idea of what similar pitchers made just four or five years ago. If we adjust for inflation, Greinke could justifiably ask for something between Sabathia’s and Santana’s contracts. Because of his past issues, teams might be hesitant to offer Greinke such an expensive contract. But based on his performance, he deserves to be paid like an elite starter.


Adam Silver: No NBA team is tanking

Penguins having three more players tested for mumps

Jay Cutler is not the answer for the Titans

Josh Smith released by Detroit Pistons in surprising move

13 amazing NFL stats from Week 16

JJ Watt's bloody face defines 2014 campaign


Dominic Raiola insists he didn't intentionally stomp opponent

Jets call themselves the best 3-12 team in NFL history

Cam Newton calls out 'classless' Panthers fans

Report: 49ers to part ways with Harbaugh after season finale

Brad Stevens shoots down rumors he's headed to Hoosiers

Jameis Winston cleared in code of conduct case

Don't mess with Seahawks punter Jon Ryan

Niners OT asked Manti Te'o about his fake girlfriend

Darren Sproles' wife Michel fires back at Eagles critics

Steve Smith expects 'couch quarterback' criticism

WATCH: Tennessee walk-on gets scholarship as bowl gift

Raiders player gives game check to young girl in need

Game of the week: Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers

Yankees pay for education of slain officer's children

Breaking up the Brooklyn Nets

Brady: Edelman might be Pat's Most Dependable Player

Who can fight off the Golden State Warriors in the West?

NFL flexes Bengals-Steelers into 'Sunday Night Football' slot

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Niners OT asked Te'o about fake girlfriend

Sproles' wife fires back at Eagles critics

Game of the week: Lions vs. Packers

Breaking up the Brooklyn Nets

13 amazing NFL stats from Week 16

JJ Watt's bloody face defines 2014 campaign

Jets claim to be best 3-12 team ever

10 takeaways from NFL Week 16

Cam Newton calls out 'classless' Panthers fans

Raiola stomps on Bears player's ankle

Bears interested in Jim Harbaugh?

Shanahan to return to 2015?

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.