Trader in the 30-year bond options pit signals an order in front of a trading board at the Chicago Board of Trade

Options deadline passes as teams look ahead to 2011


It’s now past midnight in the east and the deadline for teams to either exercise or decline options on players has passed.  There weren’t a ton of surprises — if any — but it’s worth reviewing some of the bigger names that were involved in the early offseason decisions.

The Cardinals got an easy call out of the way immediately after their regular season ended, exercising a bargain $16.5 million on Albert Pujols for 2011.  Baseball’s best hitter doesn’t have a contract lined up for 2012 and the Cards are expected to be busy on that front this winter.  El Hombre told reporters in the Dominican Republic Thursday that he’s hoping for an extension by the start of next season.

Mark Ellis will be back in Oakland for another year.  The A’s picked up his $6 million option and will start him at second base again in 2011.  He was superb defensively this year with decent production at the plate.

The Red Sox convinced designated hitter David Ortiz that he was lucky to have a $12.5 million option given his age, lack of defensive versatility and soon-to-be diminishing performance at the plate.  He was hoping for a two-year extension, or perhaps something more, but the Sox exercised the option and will play it year-to-year with the 34-year-old slugger.

Vladimir Guerrero had a highly productive year for the American League champion Rangers, registering an .841 OPS, 29 homers and 115 RBI, but he wasn’t deemed worthy of a $9 million salary.  He is no longer capable of playing the outfield and fell off a bit in the second half.  His option was declined for 2011 and he will enter the offseason as a free agent.  The Rangers are probably going to try to bring him back for less.

Jose Reyes didn’t have the most productive 2010 campaign, but his $11 million option was picked up in an easy move for new Mets GM Sandy Alderson.  Reyes, 27, had a .773 OPS in the half last season and is capable of riding that momentum into an even more productive 2011.

Adrian Beltre, 31, had control of his own destiny this fall and has decided to test the free-agent waters after posting a stellar .321 batting average, .919 OPS and 28 home runs over 589 at-bats in 2010.  He could have exercised his $11 million player option and stayed in Boston, but he’s hoping for a multi-year deal and is certain to find it.

Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez also had a player option, but he didn’t have the kind of season that Beltre had and wisely opted for a $14.6 million salary in 2011.  He’s inury prone, finished with an on-base percentage under .300 this year, and wouldn’t have touched that kind of cash as a free agent.

Bronson Arroyo was the ace of the Reds’ tremendous pitching staff this year with a 17-10 record, 3.88 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over 33 starts.  He is seeking a long-term deal and the Redlegs are going to consider it.  But it only made sense for the club to pick up his $11 million option first.  And they did.

The market this winter looks to be thin — really thin — and most players seeking contracts should find them.  Cliff Lee will be the offseason’s biggest winner and Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth should be close seconds.  We here at Hardball Talk will be tracking it all.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.