Seconds after Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow pulled off perhaps the most shocking deal of this trade deadline to bring Zack Greinke to an already stacked Astros rotation he surveyed the stunned room in a bit of a daze.
“I can’t believe we just added Zack Greinke to this rotation and this team,” Luhnow said, sharing the thought he had as he completed the trade.
Luhnow orchestrated the swap to bring the six-time All-Star who won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award to Houston from Arizona in exchange for four minor leaguers as the headliner of a flurry of trades he made on Wednesday to beef up the talented squad.
Houston also acquired two other pitchers, getting starter Aaron Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini from Toronto and bringing back catcher Martin Maldonado, who spent the last 41 games with the team in 2018, from the Cubs.
Luhnow said getting Greinke only became a possibility in the last two days and talks for the veteran right-hander didn’t really heat up until the final 24 hours.
“I wasn’t sure it was going to happen and throughout the afternoon there was times I thought it was dead and times I thought it was 50/50, but at no point did I think it was over 50/50,” he said. “And then when it all came together we just looked at each other in the room and said: ‘Is this really happening?’ We kind of had to pinch ourselves.”
The 2017 World Series champs were in the market for another starter as the rotation behind their top three has performed inconsistently this season. The Arizona ace is 10-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 22 starts this season and provides a pronounced upgrade over the variety of players they’ve cycled through to start behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley this season.
Arizona agreed to send Houston $24 million to offset much of the $74,161,290 Greinke is owed in salary plus $2 million to cover the assignment bonus he gets for being traded. The Diamondbacks pay the Astros $2 million on Nov. 1 for the assignment bonus and pay Houston $3,333,333 on Oct. 15 plus $10,333,333 each on July 1 in 2020 and 2021.
Greinke’s $206.5 million, six-year contract includes a $31.5 million salary for this year — which has $10,161,290 remaining — plus $32 million in each of the next two seasons. His deal defers $10.5 million in 2019 salary and $11 million in each of the next two years, and Houston assumes responsibility for the deferred money being accrued starting Thursday.
Luhnow said it was difficult to give up four top prospects to snag the 35-year-old Greinke, but that he and owner Jim Crane believed they needed to be aggressive to upgrade this team, even though it has a comfortable lead atop the AL West.
“Every year going forward there’s going to be multiple good players reaching free agency so you just don’t know when you’re going to assemble a group this talented again,” Luhnow said. “So you have to take advantage of that and that’s something Jim believes in and so do I. It’s a balancing act … but we are definitely going for it this year.”
Greinke’s addition gives the Astros four starting pitchers with ERAs in the top 15 in the majors this year. Verlander is fifth with a 2.73 ERA, Greinke is ninth, Cole is 11th at 2.94 and Wade Miley ranks 14th at 3.06. Verlander leads the AL in wins (14) and ERA, and Cole tops with the majors with 212 strikeouts.
Greinke won the Cy Young Award when he went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA in 33 starts for the Royals. His other top season came in 2015 with the Dodgers when he won a career-high 19 games and posted a career-low 1.66 ERA in 33 starts. In a 16-year career, in which he also had stops in Milwaukee and with the Los Angeles Angels, he’s gone 197-122 with a 3.36 ERA in 477 games.
Greinke has long seemed less than thrilled to speak with reporters and even sometimes been called aloof by teammates, but the Astros aren’t worried about how he’ll fit in with their team.
“I don’t know him personally but I think he’s not a guy that seeks the limelight and that actually works well for us here in Houston,” Luhnow said. “Slotting in with Verlander and Cole he’s not going to have to be a guy that’s in front of the camera the whole time.”
And his Astros teammates were ecstatic that Luhnow and Crane were able to add an arm like his to the squad.
“What a pickup,” Cole said. “They nailed it. They did a magnificent job.”
While Greinke was certainly the star of Houston’s trade haul, the Astros believe that Sanchez and Biagini will be valuable as they chase their second title. Luhnow called Sanchez and Biagini “big arms” and said Sanchez could start for them as early as Saturday, but could be used out of the bullpen during the playoffs.
“This guy is going to pitch important innings for us in the postseason,” Luhnow said of Sanchez. “The more good pitchers you have to throw out there the better chance you have to win games.”
AP Sports Writers Tom Withers and Jake Seiner contributed to this report.
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