Roenicke: Greinke as tough as they come
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Zack Greinke is at the top of this winter's free-agent pitching class, but conventional wisdom has held that he wouldn't fare well with a big-market team because of his social anxiety disorder.
On Tuesday, Ron Roenicke debunked that notion in a large way. Roenicke managed Greinke for 1 1/2 successful seasons with the Brewers. In Roenicke's recollection, his time with Greinke was far from troubled and was, in fact, downright enjoyable.
This topic was introduced during Roenicke's Winter Meetings media session at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. A Los Angeles reporter asked Roenicke about his experiences with Greinke, because the Dodgers are considered to be one of the primary clubs bidding for Greinke's services.
"Zack was one of the most interesting players that I've had," Roenicke said, "and one of the most enjoyable players that I've had.
"There were a couple of things there. He's brutally honest. He's going to make some comments at times that you're not going to be happy about. But then he turns around a couple of days later and you talk, and all of a sudden you're laughing and you really enjoy the guy."
One of those "brutally honest" moments came during the 2011 National League Championship Series between the Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals. Ill will had been built up between the two teams during the regular season. In media interview sessions, players were routinely asked about that. In his session, Greinke said that the Brewers generally had no real problems with the Cardinals, but then added:
"Nobody likes [Chris] Carpenter. He's a phony."
That caused a controversy, but it subsided without lasting damage being done. What lasted was the notion that nobody but Greinke would have said something like that regarding a pitcher of Carpenter's stature.
Most of the time, though, Greinke's candor was useful.
"Most of the conversations we had, when they were done, I was like: 'Wow, that was impressive,'" Roenicke said. "And he's like that. He's interested in a lot of things. He doesn't like a lot of fluff talk. He doesn't care what the weather is outside. He wants to know how his slider can get nastier, that's what he wants to know. When you talk to him about those things that interest him, you're in for a great conversation.
"We tried to go out of our way to make him comfortable. We did. Just making sure that he was in on all conversations regarding what we were going to do, whether it was his workout routines, his bullpen [session], where he was going to stay in town. There were a lot of things where I wanted to make sure that he felt comfortable -- with the front office, with the staff and with his teammates.
"He fit in right away. Spring Training, we have a lot of conversations before we start for the day, and Zack was very vocal in some things, which I thought was great. Zack fit right in. We've got an easy bunch of guys to get along with, and he liked it there. We certainly liked him and what he did for our team."
Greinke was 25-9 in his 1 1/2 seasons with the Brewers, helping them win a division title in 2011. He went to the Angels in a Trade Deadline deal this past season, and went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts. He was, of course, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2009 with Kansas City.
Greinke's teammates in Milwaukee appreciated his pitching ability. For that, they were happy to tolerate his idiosyncrasies. One Brewers player referred to him as "Captain Weirdo," but this was a cheerful reference.
Greinke was respected as a determined and successful competitor. His unfiltered comments were also appreciated.
"He's a lot of fun," Roenicke said. "There's not too many guys who are brutally honest to the point where it's kind of refreshing."
None of this seems to preclude the possibility of Greinke signing with a big-market team and subsequently succeeding with that team. There would have to be a structured atmosphere for him, and there shouldn't be any expectations for any small talk coming from him.
But the notion that Greinke isn't emotionally equipped to pitch for a big-market club, such as the Dodgers, seems either arbitrary or basically incorrect.
As Greinke once put it when asked about pitching for a team from Boston or New York: "It would just be more people to ignore."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.