I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Red Sox are going to be in the market for an ace this winter. Between their deep pockets and their arguably deeper farm system, they have more options to obtain a front of the rotation arm than any other club in baseball. If they decide to go the free agent route, there are two clear top-tier options available in David Price and Zack Greinke. Both are elite players with proven track records, and the coming weeks will be filled with debates about which one is the better fit. Everyone already has or will have a preference. With regard to Greinke, there is one narrative that is already starting to shape some people’s opinions, and it’s one that we need to stop.
For those who aren’t aware, Greinke has been battling anxiety issues for his entire major-league career, and likely for his entire life. It was something that got so bad that it almost caused him to walk away from the game back in 2006. However, at that point, it was diagnosed and subsequently treated. You don’t need me to tell you that the issues haven't affected his performance, as he’s been one of the truly elite pitchers in the game throughout his career. One look at his Baseball-Reference, Baseball Prospectus or Fangraphs player page will back that up.
Of course, with this being Boston, the fact that he considered walking away from the game at such a young age because of an anxiety issue is enough to scare some people away from the thought of signing Greinke. It’s a troubling way to look at this portion of his life, especially when it’s so often presented without context. At that point in his life, the social anxiety issue had been undiagnosed and, just as importantly, untreated. He returned to the game that season and was given the proper medication to fight his issues. It’s something that he doesn’t talk about very often — for obvious reasons, considering how sensitive and personal this subject is — but he did open up about it for this interview in 2013. You can read the quotes yourself, but he talks about how much the medication has helped him and how the anxiety doesn’t affect him on the mound.
The narrative is that Greinke’s anxiety will somehow become an issue again if/when he’s forced to deal with the big, bad Boston media on a daily basis. This isn’t to totally discount the idea that playing in Boston isn’t for everyone, either. It’s clearly a more intensive market than just about any other in the league, and it’s affected players in the past. The most obvious example is Carl Crawford, whose did not try to hide how little he enjoyed playing here in 2011 and 2012. However, even with those example, it’s an overblown narrative, especially when it comes to Greinke. It ignores everything that’s happened in his life — both on the field and off of it — in the last decade. This is a guy who has played in Los Angeles, a large market in its own right, and has made nine postseason starts. He’s played in high-pressure environments, and played very well.
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In the end, none of us know if Boston is a good fit for the three-time All-Star and former Cy Young and Rookie of the Year winner. Greinke can make that decision on his own, and if anyone is to be trusted with that decision, it’s him. His reputation around the league paints him as a very smart, thoughtful man. By all accounts, he’s not the type of player who is going to chase a paycheck without doing his due diligence about the organization and the city. If it comes down to it, Greinke will certainly ask people who knows around the league about what it’s like to play in Boston, and he’ll make his decision from there. If he decides this is a place he’d like to spend the next five or six years, that should be more than enough to stop worrying about his fit with the city.
If you want to say that the Red Sox should pursue Price instead, that’s fine. In fact, I’d probably agree with you. There are reasons to be relatively worried about handing that kind of contract to Greinke that have nothing to do with armchair diagnoses. He’s two years older than Price, and he’ll have a compensation pick attached to him that Price won’t. There’s also reasons that Greinke will want to play somewhere else that have nothing to do with the market size. Chief among them is the fact that the Red Sox play in the American League, and Greinke is well known for his love of hitting.
All of those things are valid concerns, and those are what should be shaping the conversation around Boston’s pursuit of an ace. As fans of the game or media who cover the team, we don’t have anything resembling enough information to determine if Greinke can handle playing in this city. Diving deep into his psyche, his mental state or any anxiety issues and trying to diagnose him is questionable at best and wildly irresponsible at worst. It’s going to be a fun offseason full of debates about who fits the best on this roster. Just do yourself, Zack Greinke and everyone else a favor and don’t act like an expert in an area you are woefully under qualified to talk about.