Can (and should) the Brewers extend Zack Greinke?

Zack Greinke recently indicated he would be open to an extension with the Brewers, which is a perfectly acceptable reason to get excited as a fan. The prospect of a Greinke (or Shaun Marcum) extension has been bandied about among Brewer faithful for some time, and between Greinke’s excellent track record, possible room for growth, clean injury history, and apparent liking of Milwaukee, the right-hander would seem like to be almost an ideal candidate for a long-term pact.

Obviously, everyone would prefer “Zack Greinke” over “no Zack Greinke”, but that only scratches the surface of the decisions involved. Can the Brewers fit in the $15-20 million Greinke would likely command along with the long-term contracts they already have? If so, would the move make sense for the Brewers long-term? That’s what we’ll try to examine today.

A few different contract figures have been speculated upon, but we’ll start out by assuming it would take at least a 5 year, $85 million dollar deal to bypass the free agent market. However, a straight 17 million/year deal would leave the Brewers with around $68 million already on the books for both 2013 (to seven players) and 2014 (three guys). The Brewers’ revenues should go up with their new TV deal kicking in next year, but even if the club can consistently push the $100 million payroll range, this kind of contract would still likely handicap the club significantly.

Our estimate gives the Brewers around $30 million to spend in the two seasons after this one after adding in Greinke’s hypothetical salary. Between the club’s growing arbitration class (Shaun Marcum, John Axford, Chris Narveson, Jonathon Lucroy in 2014, and probably others) and whatever free agents they can scrape up to plug the continuing holes at shortstop and in the bullpen, that $30 million isn’t going to go very far. Unless multiple Brewer farmhands suddenly blossom into big-league regulars on the cheap, such an extension would have to be heavily back-loaded to be feasible. 

From our point of view, it looks like the Brewers could maybe find a way for a Greinke deal to work if they really, really want to, but whether or not they should is a whole other issue. Greinke is slated to reach free agency next year, and the Brewers are probably not going to be anything close to a playoff team in the years after, whether Greinke is around or not. This will be the point when it becomes prudent to try and exchange established but pricey regulars for prospects or compensation picks that could help the club when they are ready to contend again. In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t quite mesh with the idea of spending top dollar on an ace whose talents will probably only serve to sell a few tickets and push the club from 72 to 77 wins.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Zack Greinke be a Brewer for at least a few more years, and I (and more than a few others) will end up watching a few more Brewers games on TV if he’s starting instead of Marco Estrada. However, that doesn’t make him indispensable, especially when the added wins would prove to be Pyrrhic victories anyway.