Ugliness surrounded Zack Greinke the last time he pitched at Kauffman Stadium. You remember that summer, right? The Royals certainly do. Players remember. Coaches remember. Executives remember. Greinke no longer wanted to be there, and a growing portion of the Royals organization felt the same.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Greinke quit on the Royals. Quit on them first in subtle ways that could be explained away by quirkiness or his well-known issues with social anxiety. But then he quit on them in more obvious ways, pitching with varying levels of focus and care, then going public with doubts about the franchises chances, then finally to management with demands of a trade.
This left a hole in the Royals rotation, obviously, but more to the point it left anger in the Royals clubhouse.
After all, this was a teammate essentially saying that they were not good enough now and wouldnt be good enough anytime soon.
Greinke turned out to be right the Royals lost 91 games last year and are on a similar pace so far but that is mostly irrelevant to the emotions.
Players left in Kansas City stewed. They grumbled. The most outspoken was Billy Butler, who publicly said the Royals didnt want Greinke if Greinke didnt want them and privately said much more.
This is the part that so many people missed in the Could Zack Come Back? mystery that will be solved when hes a free agent after this season. It wasnt just Greinke who will have to decide whether he wanted a reunion. The Royals will have to decide whether they could trust him again.
And to that end, you mostly just need to know that the Royals are dead last in the American League with a 5.12 ERA from their starters.
This is why Butler the Royals highest-paid player and formerly their most outspoken critic of Greinke has changed his mind.
It really is all about winning, Butler says. Its about being a good teammate, too, and all that stuff, but a lot of things get overshadowed when you have that type of talent. If we were winning, he would have a completely different attitude.
I think Zacks grown up over the years, and I should say so have I.
Zack Greinke has two rotten starts this season and one more where he gave up three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings and then nine other starts that have him in the early National League Cy Young discussion.
Greinke is 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 72 innings. The Brewers are 9-3 in his starts. The Royals are 4-8 in games started by Luis Mendoza, Vin Mazzaro and Will Smith.
So replace the Royals No. 5 starter essentially a revolving door of long relievers with Greinke, and its easy to imagine a five-game improvement.
Give the Royals a five-game improvement, and theyre 29-29, three games out of first place and 21/2 games ahead of preseason favorite Detroit. Instead, they are a half-game ahead of the awful Twins as the American Leagues worst team.
Tampering rules prohibit general manager Dayton Moore and other Royals officials from talking about players on other teams, and Greinke hasnt gone into much detail.
But its worth noting that the Brewers lost Prince Fielder to free-agency last year, might lose Shaun Marcum after this year and are currently four games under .500 with Greinke.
In a conversation last year during the Brewers run to the playoffs, I asked Greinke about returning to Kansas City.
Their coaches are really good, he said. And I like the city. We still have a place there. (Wife) Emily loved it there. But I dont know. Its a tough question. I have more thoughts about it, but I cant really say it out loud. The answers not no or yes, its just, I dont know yet.
That decision is getting closer every day.
Zack Greinke would have to take less money than he could get in other places. And the Royals would have to pay more than theyve paid anyone else. Greinke is making $13.5 million in the last year of the extension he signed with the Royals, one that would have him as the highest-paid player in franchise history.
With a young core approaching arbitration, would the Royals be willing to offer more than that for five or six years?
So logistics not emotion, not history, not fire-damaged bridges will probably keep this from happening.
But theres enough here to make you wonder. Enough here to make this more than just a dream, more than just another what-if like the Royals drafting Albert Pujols or AEG actually living up to their fingers-crossed-behind-their-backs promise about landing an anchor tenant for the Sprint Center.
This is at least possible. This is at least a scenario with embers that can be sparked and catch fire and turn into something significant. And with the way the Royals pitching is, can they afford not to make a major play for Greinke?
He is more competitive than most people realize and has a bigger ego than you see from the surface. So signing the biggest contract might be important. Walking back to a place he once dumped on might be out of the question.
Its just that things have never been that simple with Greinke. He doesnt do simple, doesnt do the expected, doesnt do what most successful professional athletes do.
Kansas City was good to him. Kansas City made him comfortable. Kansas City made him happy, once upon a time. Could Greinke want to re-create that? If it wasnt at least a possibility, why wouldnt he have sold his place here?
There is no telling, not yet. But its a safe assumption that he is paying attention to whats happening in Kansas City, at least open to being convinced that things are changing.
Which means the Royals have a lot of work to do.
To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.