Do I hear an opening offer for Zack Greinke? (Tip: He’s the best free agent in this market.)

Let’s just say there probably won’t be any surprises for the club signing Zack Greinke. Go ahead and write these numbers down:

  • 205 innings.
  • 32 starts.
  • 195 strikeouts.
  • 2.99 ERA.

That’s the average of his first eight seasons in the major leagues. Yes, that’s the average. In three seasons with the Dodgers, he’s 51-15 with a 2.31 ERA.  So even if you think he won’t repeat a 2015 season in which he had a mind-blowing 1.66 ERA, you’re still getting one of the best and most durable pitchers on the planet. He has made fewer than 32 starts just twice in the last eight seasons. He made 28 both those.

Those were also the only seasons he didn’t fly past the 200-inning threshold. In terms of performance, that 2.99 ERA puts him right there in the conversation with Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Felix Hernandez in the “best pitcher in baseball” debate.

Inside the industry, there’s a feeling the Dodgers will not re-sign him, that they’ll make a run at David Price, who is two years younger and probably will end up with similar money.

In opting out of his contract, Greinke is walking away from $71 million over three years. He probably figures to get a deal averaging around $30 million a year and then will stretch the years as far as some team is willing to go.

When he signed a six-year, $147-million deal with the Dodgers after the 2012 season, it was the highest offer on the table. Three years later, that one looks like a bargain, which says plenty about the health of the game.

Enough about money. Let’s get to the good stuff. At his best, Greinke is the most dominant, most entertaining pitcher in the game. He’s that generational type pitcher who can beat you with his third and fourth pitches.

To combine a 92-mph fastball with a wipeout slider and an above average curveball and changeup is as good as it gets.

His 1.66 ERA in 2015 was historically good, the lowest by a pitcher since Greg Maddux had a 1.63 ERA in 1995. His WHIP was a microscopic 0.84. In July, he strung together six straight scoreless starts, a stretch of 45 2/3 innings, fourth-longest in a half century.

It’ll be fascinating to watch the free-agent starters leave the marketplace. Besides Greinke, there’s Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lackey and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Giants are looking for starting pitching after finishing second in the Jon Lester sweepstakes. The Cubs and Red Sox would like more starting pitching. Actually, every team wants more starting pitching, and it’ll be interesting to see where the dollars for Price and Greinke land.

Here are the benchmark pitching contracts:

  • Clayton Kershaw (7 years, $215 million).
  • Max Scherzer (7 years, $210 million).
  • Justin Verlande (7 years, $180 million).
  • Felix Hernandez (7-$175 million).
  • Jon Lester, 6 years, $155 million).

Here are the ages of those five pitchers in the final years of the contract: Kershaw (32), Lester (36), Scherzer (36), Verlander (37), Hernandez (33).

Given that Greinke is already 32 years old, a six-year contract would take him past a point of comfort for many teams. Besides that, the salary will run $30 million a year or more. A five-year deal seems where the final number will land, but the dollars will be huge.

This is also how the thing is supposed to work. He’s at the point in his career where there are no questions. Presuming he stays healthy–and that’s a risk–he as good as there is.

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