By signing Greinke to a four-year contract worth $38 million, the club has put a critical member of its young core in Royal blue through 2012. And Greinke's emergence from trying times a few years ago is complete.
"Zack definitely has the top-of-the-rotation quality as a pitcher," general manager Dayton Moore said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. "He's somebody that's a homegrown player, somebody that a lot of people in the organization have a lot of experience with. They believe in him, and he has a lot of trust in them."
Greinke's 2008 season was a reward for that belief. Not only did he pitch like a front-line starter, he handled himself the same way.
Beyond hitting the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career, his 13 wins matched his total for his previous three seasons combined. Greinke's 183 strikeouts ranked fifth in the American League, tied with teammate Gil Meche, while his 3.47 ERA cracked the AL's top 10 with the lowest mark for a Royals pitcher with at least 162 innings since Kevin Appier in 1997. Greinke won four of his final five starts, including back-to-back performances of seven scoreless innings in his final two outings, against Seattle and at Detroit.
His emergence was a major part of the Royals' rise out of the AL Central cellar for the first time since 2003. Once the season ended, the Royals quickly realized he was a critical piece if that rise is going to continue.
"We recognized for us to continue to get better and improve our team, we needed to have Zack with us as long as possible," Moore said. "So we made a strong effort early on in the offseason to plant the seed and move forward on a long-term deal."
It took much of the offseason to get that movement to a result. Signing Greinke was an offseason priority for the Royals, but not necessarily an obsession for Greinke. He would've been eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, and he said early this offseason that he was confident enough in his ability that he didn't need a long-term deal.
"I'm not somebody who thinks about it too much," Greinke said during a Monday press conference in Kansas City. "In fact, it hadn't really crossed my mind. I let my agent take care of pretty much everything with it. But even a little bit of thought into it is more than there needs to be."
"It was just kind of nice to talk to him and see how into it he was, to where he knew everything going on," Greinke said. "He was really serious about signing players or keeping his own players. He's my kind of guy. He's a Wal-Mart guy. I'm not a real big-time guy, spending a bunch of money on nonsense stuff. We have a lot in common."
The two sides have shown commitment to each other over the past few years, through what have been challenging times at various points for both. The former first-round Draft pick left Spring Training in 2006 for personal matters and returned home to Orlando, Fla., where he remained as the season began. He was later diagnosed with social anxiety and underwent treatment, while the Royals gave him time, space and patience.
"When I left [the team], I didn't realize there was a cure for what I had," Greinke said. "I just hated being around people. I just love baseball, and I was going to get a job where I didn't have to be around people all the time. Mainly mowing grass was my goal, to start up a good lawn-mowing business and just do that. But [former manager] Buddy Bell and [former GM] Allard [Baird] really helped me out a lot in that time. They sent me to someone to just talk to me. The psychologist figured out that it was just pretty simple how I could change what I was thinking and feeling in those situations.
"They could've easily pushed me aside, or just helped me get back and then dump me off whenever they could get something for me. But they did everything they could and bent over backwards for me from the beginning. Even when we switched [general managers] from Allard [Baird] to Dayton, it might not have been his first priority, but to me, he made it seem like his first priority, to make sure that he knew how to handle my situation and what I was going through."
After rejoining the club that September, Greinke spent most of 2007 in the bullpen between rotation stints at the beginning and end of the season. His 1.85 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 34 innings in seven starts from late August on ensured his rotation spot for '08.
The rest has been quite a comeback story. The way Greinke has handled that success, as much as the on-field success that he has had, convinced the Royals that he was ready for this.
"You need to feel comfortable with who the player is and how they handle different aspects of their lives, how they manage failure and how they compete and how they prepare," Moore said. "Those are very important elements. And we felt very comfortable with Zack, getting to know him the last two years since I've been here, seeing him off the field and how he competes on the field. Certainly there's a comfort level with who he is and how he handles different things."
How Greinke handles this kind of security shouldn't bring any surprises. The new contract takes out what would've been two years after free agency. He'll make $3.75 million this year, $7.25 million in 2010, then $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons.
In so doing, he falls in line with a few other Royals signed for the long-term. Fellow starter Gil Meche is under contract through 2011, as is outfielder David DeJesus, with a club option for that year. Closer Joakim Soria is beginning a three-year contract that includes club options that could run through '14.
"For the next four years, I can do whatever I can to get ready and not worry about [a contract] anymore," Greinke said. "I can afford whatever I need -- trainers, equipment -- to get ready. It just helps me do whatever I can to get ready for the season."
That answer doesn't surprise Moore.
"Zack likes to play," he said. "He's a ballplayer. He's pretty simple."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less