There is so much to say about the Astros trading for Zack Greinke on Wednesday, but let’s save the analysis and some of the awesome Greinke stories and such for later.
OK, one Greinke story! When he was in Class A Wilmington as an 19-year-old, he purposely threw with LESS velocity. This was really, really weird — just about every kid in the minors tries to light up the radar gun to impress the club. But Greinke, who had the arm to throw mid-to-upper-90s in those days, kept throwing 89, 90 and 91 mph fastballs, not unlike the way he throws today.
Thing is, he was absolutely dominating with that 91-mph fastball. He began his career 7-0 with a 1.02 ERA and a 9-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio.
That’s when the Royals general manager Allard Baird called to check in with Greinke. He’d heard that Greinke was worried about his velocity and wanted to make sure that the kid didn’t change anything.
“So,” Baird began, “I understand you are worried about your velocity …”
Greinke — and remember, he was 19 years old at the time — interrupted.
“No sir,” he said. “I’m not worried about it. I’m worried that YOU might be worried.”
And then he said this:
“I can throw 94 and have a 2.50 ERA. Or I can throw 91 and have a 1.20 ERA. That’s up to you.”
In other words, this guy was an absurd pitching savant from the start. He did not follow convention. He did not pitch like anyone else. He listened to whatever strange music was filling his head and he has never stopped doing that. And since he returned to baseball in 2006 after taking some time off to deal with his social anxiety and get himself together, he’s 184-94 with an ERA of pi, which is exactly what Zack Greinke’s ERA should be.
We’ll save more of this for down the road, when it becomes more apparent what kind of impact Greinke will have on the Astros. Right now, the idea of a Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke rotation trio is pretty mind blowing.
But for now, let’s talk about another odd part of Greinke’s odd career: The Astros will be Greinke’s SIXTH DIFFERENT TEAM. And the guy’s only 35 years old. This is not exactly unprecedented for a great player. But it’s pretty close to unprecedented.
First, let’s start by looking at the Hall of Famers who have played for six or more teams. Let’s just look at the years since the American League began in 1901 because the game was very different before that:
9 teams: Rickey Henderson, Goose Gossage and Hoyt Wilhelm
8 teams: Lee Smith and Gaylord Perry.
7 teams: Robbie Alomar, Al Simmons, Waite Hoyt and Burleigh Grimes.
6 teams: Jim Thome, Ivan Rodriguez. Randy Johnson, Tim Raines, Dave Winfield, Steve Carlton, Orlando Cepeda, Heinie Manush and Three Finger Brown.
So you can see, Greinke is not alone. But there’s a difference here — most of these players piled up franchises at the END of their careers, when they were desperately trying to hang on for another season. Rickey Henderson, for example, is famous for having played for many teams — but he really only played for two teams in his prime, the A’s and the Yankees (he also had a handful of games for Toronto in 1993). It was only in his late 30s and into his 40s that he played for the Padres, Angels, Mets, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers.
Yes, Goose Gossage played for nine teams, but he played for five of them after he turned 35. Gaylord Perry traveled from town to town when he no longer had the stuff or the spit; he played for two teams at 41, another team at 42, another team at 43 and another team at 44.
Greinke is different. He is, as mentioned, just 35 years old and he has been GOOD for every one of the five teams he has played for.
He began in Kansas City and was terrific — in 2009, he led the league in just about everything and won the Cy Young Award, it’s one of the great seasons of this century.
He was traded to Milwaukee, and he wasn’t great there, but he was good; In 2011 he went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA and the Brewers reached the postseason.
He was traded to the Angels for the 2012 stretch run, and down the stretch he went 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA.
Then he signed with the Dodgers, and he was terrific again — in 2015, he led the league in ERA, WHIP and bWAR+ and finished second in the Cy Young voting.
He opted out of that Dodgers contract, went to Arizona, had a rough season and then over the last 2 1/2 years he was 42-22 with a 3.12 ERA, and he is in the Cy Young discussion this year.
Now Houston. It’s really strange. Has a great player ever moved around so much in his prime? Here are the closest comps I can find through age 35:
Roberto Alomar (67.8 WAR, 6 franchises)
— This is not exactly the same thing — Alomar did play on four different teams when he was still great. He began with the Padres where he began to develop into a star. Then he went to Toronto and became a star. He signed as a free agent with Baltimore and, three years later, signed as a free agent with Cleveland. But the rest was merely part of his decline phase. The Tribe traded him to the Mets at age 34 either to save money (probably) or because they thought he was finished as a great player (which turned out to be true). Alomar struggled with the Mets and was then dumped on the White Sox, his sixth team.
Kevin Brown (58.7 WAR, 6 franchises)
— There are some similarities between Brown and Greinke, but really Brown’s rapid movement circled around that weird Marlins run in the mid-1990s. You might recall the Marlins decided to go for it around 1995 — that was when Wayne Huizenga and his loathsome Blockbuster Video were flying high — and so they signed Brown. He led them to a World Series title.
The Marlins promptly tore everything apart and, in the process, traded him to San Diego, where he led the Padres to the World Series.
Then he cashed in and signed a monster deal with the Dodgers. So that’s three teams right there just because of the Marlins awfulness.
Bobby Bonds (57.9 WAR, 8 franchises)
— Bonds was famous for getting moved from team to tea, but he actually spent the first seven years of his career in San Francisco. During that time, he hit .273/.356/.478, hit 186 homers, stole 263 bases, twice led the league in runs, once led in total bases and won three Gold Gloves. He was one heck of a player. He was also, apparently, one heck of a pain in the neck — or at least that’s how teams came to see him — and so in 1975, the parade began.
He went to the Yankees for a year (a 30-30 season), was traded to California for two (another 30-30 season — actually 37 homers, and 41 stolen bases), he played for the White Sox and Rangers in ‘78 (a combined 30-30 season), went to Cleveland for a season (not a 30-30 year, but did hit 25 homers and steal 34 bases), then to St. Louis, then to the Cubs. He was done at 35. This is not really comparable to Greinke or anyone else — Bobby Bonds was entirely his own story.
Gary Sheffield (52.9 WAR, 6 franchises)
— Sheffield, like Brown, got caught up in that weird Marlins mid-1990s thing … but his story is a bit different from Brown’s. Sheffield began his career as a disappointment in Milwaukee, which led to his trade to San Diego.
He was terrific for San Diego, leading the league in hitting and total bases in 1992. But he got in some trouble off the field, and the Padres were cheap, so they dealt him to the Marlins in 1993 in what was at the time a hugely unpopular move (though, in the end, it did bring the Padres Trevor Hoffman). “This was a trade,” Chris DeLuca wrote in the Time-Advocate of Escondido, “triggered for one reason alone — to save even more money for the Padres pathetic ownership group.”
Sheffield won a World Series with the Marlins and then, like everyone else, he was moved — he went to the Dodgers where he had a couple of his best seasons.
The Marlins traded him the Dodgers when they were breaking up. The Dodgers traded him to Atlanta four years later. He signed with the Yankees the next year. Then he got demanded and got traded to the Braves where, at 34, he probably had his best season — .330/.419/.604 with 37 doubles, 39 homers, 126 runs and 132 RBIs. Then he signed with the Yankees.
Wes Ferrell (48.9 WAR, 6 franchises)
— This is not like Greinke. Ferell became ineffective at age 29 after six superb seasons for Cleveland and a couple more for Boston. He then kicked around with Washington, the Yankees, Brooklyn and the Braves in an effort to extend his career.
Waite Hoyt (48.8 WAR, 7 franchises)
— As a teenager, Hoyt briefly played for the Giants, and then he got two years with Boston before being traded to the Yankees, where he was a mainstay for a decade. So that’s the first three teams. He was pretty well done at age 30, and spent the rest of his career chasing jobs — Detroit, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, back to the Giants and finally Pittsburgh where he had a nice comeback, pitching well from 1934-36.
Rocky Colavito (44.5 WAR, 6 franchises)
— He was a superstar in Cleveland and then was traded to Detroit in one of the most controversial moves in Tribe history. He was terrific for Detroit until age 29. Then, he was dealt to Kansas City for a year, traded back to Cleveland, and in an effort to keep his career going he had brief appearances with the White Sox, Dodgers and Yankees before hanging them up at age 34.
So, no, I don’t really see anyone QUITE like Greinke, a player who just seems to move around a lot even though he’s always good and nobody seems unhappy to have him. I suppose David Cone has some similarities — both started with Kansas City, both were twice traded at the deadline, but Cone only played for five teams in his entire career. In the end, like in most things, Greinke is his own guy.