SEATTLE | Zack Greinke isn’t sure he wants to endure the growing pains he knows are coming as the Royals gear up for another youth-based rebuilding plan.
It matters little that growing optimism surrounds numerous prospects currently percolating through the club’s farm system or that raves from outside the organization match in-house assessments for the first time in years.
Greinke greets it with a shrug.
“Every system has something,” he said. “The biggest problem is I have two more years on my contract. Are those guys supposed to make it up by the beginning of next year?”
Tell him, yes, some are projected to reach the majors next year, and Greinke just shakes his head. He seems a resigned skeptic dulled by the hard reality of too many losses over too many years.
“Very rarely,” he argued, “do guys come straight into the big leagues and make an impact, especially hitters. Just look at the top prospects in baseball. Delmon Young was one five years ago, and he’s finally starting to play well.
“Alex Gordon was one four years ago, and he might be starting to play well now. So the problem (with the Royals’ prospects) is that it’s not like as soon as they get here that it’s going to be instant (success). Maybe by 2014.”
Greinke lets that harsh assessment hang in the air for a moment before continuing.
“There’s no reason for me to get real excited about it,” he said, “because the chance of more than one of them making a major impact by the time my contract is up is pretty slim.”
Greinke knows the effect his words will have. While still just 26, he trails only injured outfielder David DeJesus among players on the club’s 40-man roster in continuous service time with the organization.
He knows, too, that as much as he finds it “annoying,” he is the face of the franchise and its most recognizable star. (All-Star closer Joakim Soria, for all his accomplishments, still hears his name mispronounced outside of Kansas City.)
Greinke is a homegrown success story, the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner and by 2012, the final year of his contract, will be the highest-paid player in franchise history.
His harsh assessment carries weight, although it’s wrong, he makes clear, to conclude he wants out. Even so, Greinke hedges when asked if he sees himself staying with the Royals beyond 2012.
“It depends more on the team now,” he admitted. “We’ll see. This is at least the third full re-start/rebuilding phase since I’ve been here. And, obviously, none of them have worked. This one hasn’t even really started yet.”
Some of this could be frustration talking, of course.
It’s early August – the onset of baseball’s dog days, when the blues set in on all struggling teams. The Royals find themselves 16 games under .500 at 46-62. Club officials make it clear the final 54 games will be an evaluation period.
And, personally, Greinke is laboring through a disappointing (and perhaps inevitable) drop-off from his Cy Young success. He is 7-10 with a 3.97 ERA entering his start Friday against the Mariners.
“It’s probably more of a grind than any year since 2005,” he said. “This one has been like that one for most of the season.”
Those are sobering words. Greinke came close to a breakdown in 2005. He went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA and was thoroughly miserable.
The following spring, he quit baseball for a brief period before returning once he was diagnosed and treated for clinical depression and social anxiety. That treatment unlocked his potential and spurred his development into one of the game’s top pitchers.
There’s little reason to suspect a relapse, although the attention surrounding his success likely elevated his stress level. He also got married in the offseason; a life-changing experience under the best of circumstances.
A calmer offseason this winter should help.
What emerges instead from listening to Greinke earlier this week, on a rare occasion when he chose to open up, is that his current discouragement stems, primarily, from the drudgery of losing.
Another roster overhaul might be the Royals’ best chance, perhaps their only chance, to shake the malaise from a lost generation. Greinke doesn’t argue the point. He just views it from a personal perspective.
“It’s not real exciting to have to go through it again,” he said. “It’s been six years with me, and most people (who are Royals fans) have been through a lot more than I have. But for me, it’s the third complete re-start/rebuilding phase.”
Would he be happier elsewhere?
“I like Kansas City,” Greinke said. “It’s a town that fits me pretty well. But I don’t know…at least put a team together that has a fighting chance (to win).”
He means soon. Not 2014.