The Astros have one of the more significant crop of free agents around the league, as the team is facing the potential departures of Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Kendall Graveman and Zack Greinke, among others. Houston may make an effort to retain some of that group, but Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (on Twitter) that Greinke is not expected to return to the Astros this winter.
Assuming he indeed signs elsewhere, Greinke will wrap up his Astros tenure after two and a half seasons. Acquired from the D-Backs in a surprise 2019 deadline day blockbuster, the six-time All-Star worked 62 2/3 innings with a pristine 3.02 ERA down the stretch. While he was knocked around in one start during the Division Series, Greinke had strong showings in both the AL Championship Series and World Series that year.
Over the past two seasons, Greinke has offered more steady mid-rotation production than the ace-caliber numbers he consistently posted for the bulk of his career. He worked 67 frames of 4.03 ERA ball in 2020, and put up a similar 4.16 mark over 171 innings this past season. His underlying numbers this year took a worrying downturn, though, which contributed to the team curtailing his postseason workload. Greinke’s strikeout rate dropped from 24.5% in 2020 to 17.2% this past season, while his home run rate doubled. During this year’s run to the World Series, skipper Dusty Baker relied more heavily on the team’s younger arms, with Greinke working just 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball in three playoff outings.
The dip in swing-and-miss should have some impact on Greinke’s offseason market, but the 38-year-old will no doubt still find plenty of interest. His 4.16 ERA, while his highest mark since 2016, was nevertheless a bit better than the leaguewide 4.34 showing for starting pitchers. Greinke remains one of the sport’s preeminent control artists, with this year’s 5.2% walk percentage checking in 11th-lowest among the 129 hurlers with 100+ innings. And that’s before considering the intangible value teams could expect from the 18-year big league veteran, who is regarded as one of the league’s most cerebral pitchers.
Nightengale suggests Greinke would prefer an opportunity with a National League team. That’s something of an odd distinction on the surface, since it’s widely expected that this offseason’s collective bargaining talks could result in the introduction of the designated hitter to the NL (thereby removing the biggest differentiator between the two leagues). Still, it’s possible Greinke — who played the bulk of the 2011-19 seasons playing for NL clubs — might broadly prefer the accommodations or ballparks in the NL to those of the American League.