The excitement the KC Royals generated when they brought Zack Greinke back to Kansas City two seasons ago has waned. Only occasionally does Greinke closely resemble the pitcher who brought 219 career victories with him when, during spring training in 2021, he rejoined the Royals after a nine-season absence. Hard proof that his best pitching is far behind him lies in the 6-24, 4.38 (2-15, 5.06 in 2023) record he's put up over the last two campaigns.
What apparently hasn't waned, however, is Greinke's competitive fire, a blaze that still burns brightly after the peaks, valleys, and grind of a long 20-year big league career that will almost certainly merit his enshrinement in Cooperstown when he finally decides to retire.
And although his potential retirement occupied everyone's minds down the stretch this season, Greinke pitched then like a man unwilling to let the game go, suggesting there might still be something good in the magical right arm that has propelled him to 225 career victories. For example, he held the Yankees to just a run over five innings in the final game of the year, and shut out Detroit for five frames only five days before that.
In typical Greinke close-to-the-vest fashion, though, he didn't reveal his plans for 2024 during the season or at its end, leaving Royals fans to only guess what he might do.
But Tuesday, in a bit of news all but lost in the sudden hubbub triggered by Kansas City's reported acquisitions of starter Seth Lugo and reliever Chris Stratton, the Greinke silence was broken — he's reportedly ready and willing to pitch again, and has so advised major league clubs.
This latest word on Greinke revives a question left conspicuously unanswered after the Royals welcomed the merciful end to their miserable 106-loss season: will Greinke return to the club for a third straight year?
A path back to Kansas City may not be in the cards for Zack Greinke
It seems improbable that Greinke, who's now pitched for the Royals in nine of his 20 major league seasons, would find remaining a Royal distasteful. His two-year return to the club with which he debuted as a rookie in 2004 has by all accounts been an enjoyable experience for him and the Royals.
After Tuesday, however, and even if he wants to pitch for the Royals again, re-signing Greinke may not be practical or advisable. Acquiring players requires opening roster room, and there may no longer be enough space on a retooled pitching staff for Greinke. His versatility aside — he can capably and competently start or relieve — newly-acquired Lugo will almost certainly join incumbents Brady Singer (if he isn't traded), Cole Ragans, and Jordan Lyles in the rotation, and Daniel Lynch IV, injured much of the season, has been pitching in winter ball and should be ready to round out the five-man rota when spring training begins in about two months.
Plus, the Royals probably aren't ready or willing to turn their backs on Kris Bubic, who could return from Tommy John Surgery by the All-Star Break, or perhaps even earlier. And further complicating the crowded situation is that the Royals are reportedly interested in other hurlers, so they may not be finished chasing new starters with whom to overhaul a rotation that was so faulty in 2023.
All those pitchers are significantly younger than Greinke, who turned 40 shortly after the season ended — comparative age warrants much consideration when tough roster decisions have to be made, especially for a team striving to be consistently competitive. The Royals must focus on hurlers who have the potential to contribute for many seasons to come.
There's also the matter of Greinke's health. Since rejoining the Royals, he's spent time on the Injured List with a right flexor strain, right forearm tightness, right shoulder tendinitis, and right posterior elbow soreness.
So it is that Greinke, a starter his entire career, may be on the outside looking in if he has any interest in remaining a member of the Kansas City rotation. But that should be, in the grand scheme of things and amid general manager J.J. Picollo's serious ongoing efforts to boost his team's pitching fortunes, acceptable from the club's standpoint — as we've said in this space more than once, it's really time for the Royals to move in a different direction.