Zack Greinke's Take On Free Agency Offers A Welcomed Break From Usual Rhetoric

By Thom Tsang
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all thought it, of course. Every off-season, every big contract extension, and every notable free agent acquisition have all led baseball fans to the same conclusion over the years.

But then, Zack Greinke actually said it out loud:

And boy, what a refreshing dose on honesty it was.

Greinke may not be the best pitcher in the league, but he did have the largest contract handed out to a right hander – six-years, $147 million – in major league history for a little while, so he’s in a unique situation to speak on the subject.

Throughout the process leading up to the signing, there’d been talks about which teams would be better for him to play for, and whether the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Dodgers needed him more.

Turns out, it was about neither. The Dodgers just happened to have more money to spend.

That simple fact is so obvious that one could almost be taken aback by its simplicity. In fact, fans have had so many ideas of team loyalty, ideal situations, and everything else possible influencing an athlete’s career decisions outside of they money, that to think it’s entirely about the money is essentially a minor revelation.

Wait, you mean when Robinson Cano says he doesn’t play the game for money, that he actually only plays the game for money? At least David Price didn’t dance around it so much, only swapping the term “money” for “respect”.

Yes, baseball players will say they don’t play strictly for the dollars. Yet, the dollars defines everything that they play for.

So when Greinke says he wanted to see free agency even if it would end up being “one year and $1 million”, he’s really talking about getting out to the open market to find out exactly what his accomplishments have been worth in the most tangible sense.

For dissecting that to its basic terms, he deserves credit – even if he is just pointing out the obvious.

Even if it’s just to remind us all as baseball fans that spectator sports are, in fact, industries driven entirely by profit, and that includes the athletes that we admire and criticize on a day-to-day basis.

There’s been far too much escapist rhetoric created by the narrative of pro sports about personal achievements and legacy – the all-important legacy – that we forget about the millions it takes to get there. One player will be vilified for leaving his team for biggest dollars, while another will be praised for staying home and being paid what they “deserve”.

When really, both happened because there was an owner who was willing to open his pocketbook and pay what an athlete thinks will define their legacy – even home-town discounts are eight to nine-figure affairs.

Do you think David Wright would have stayed with the New York Mets if he was paid the league minimum for the next eight years, if it was guaranteed that he’d be a champion every year? Would Derek Jeter have done it? Justin Verlander? Would anyone in MLB, for whom winning won’t boost their earning potential?

Not a chance.

The reason, they’ll say, is about respect and recognition – paid out in US dollars.

Hopefully, Greinke’s welcomed honesty will lead to a change in the way that the narratives around free agency and contract negotiations in the sport are presented today.

Sure, it’ll give us a little less to talk about, and maybe some of the mystique of the sport will be taken away.

But hey, at least we don’t have to talk about it under the pretenses that the players worked their whole lives to be the best at a child’s game for any other reason.

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