Craig Calcaterra

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke to exercise his opt-out clause

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Jon Heyman reports that Zack Greinke will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract. Kind of a no-brainer given the season he just had.

The deal would’ve paid him $71 million over the next three years or an average of $23 million a year. That’s a few million below what Jon Lester, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and some other pitchers make a year, but it’s likewise a low total guarantee for a guy who just put up a season in which he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA and will finish someplace in the top three of the Cy Young voting. By opting out, Greinke, who turns 32 next week, will guarantee himself anywhere from $125-150 million, one assumes.

Who will give it to him? Many will try, one assumes, as starting pitchers as elite, durable and consistent as Greinke don’t come along too often. Indeed, he has averaged 205 innings a year since returning to full-time starting duties in 2008, and that number would’ve been higher if not for that freak collar bone injury he got when Carlos Quentin charged the mound on him back in 2013.

One has to assume, however, that the Dodgers are the favorites. Greinke, according to Heyman, likes Los Angeles and enjoyed this season and the NL West parks are a pretty good place for any pitcher. Financially speaking, the Dodgers payroll, while high, will not be significantly higher on a per annum basis if they sign Greinke. They’re already committing $23 million a year to him, after all.

Oh, and their rotation is already thin as hell after him and Kershaw as it is, so they’re gonna want to keep him around, no?

Playoff Reset: The Blue Jays and Royals kick off the ALCS

Kauffman Stadium
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No more one-and-dones. No more five-game series. We’re on to nice traditional best-of-seven baseball now and, with apologies to the fans of teams recently eliminated, it’s hard to see how we could’ve gotten a better set of League Championship Series.

In the NL we have the Mets and Cubs who, as I noted the other day are — fair or not — perennial punchlines. Yet here they are, having vanquished the big-payroll Dodgers and the 100-win Cardinals. MLB is likely happy that two huge media markets are being represented. In Toronto we have a team an entire nation is cheering for and, it just so happens, possesses the most impressive offense in baseball. In Kansas City we have a rabid fan base and a team that, as the Astros can contest, never, ever can be counted out.

Just some fantastic baseball ahead, and it all kicks off tonight.

The Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 8:07 p.m. ET
The Place: Kauffman Stadium
The Channel: Fox
The Starters: Marco Estrada vs. Edinson Volquez
The Upshot: A rematch of the 1985 ALCS which . . . obviously none of these guys remember and for which a great many of them were not even born. But 40-year-old+ fans in Toronto and KC will enjoy it, no doubt. Neither Dave Steib nor George Brett will have much to do with the outcome here, sadly, but as this year’s matchup has a couple of decent players I suppose.

Not that the past is meaningless here. At least the more recent past. The last time these teams met, in early August, benches cleared and tempers flared after Royals starter Volquez hit Josh Donaldson with a pitch and nearly hit him again his next time up with a pitch up and in. After the game Volquez called Donaldson “a little baby.” I assume that, like the Mets and their recent Chase Utley-related beef with the Dodgers, these clubs will realize that settling scores is nowhere near as important as winning these games, but watch out for the first Donaldson-Volquez battle tonight.

The Jays will go with a rotation of Estrada followed by David Price in Game 2, Marcus Stroman in Game 3, and R.A. Dickey in Game four, with the first three getting second starts if necessary. The Royals will go with Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto and, in all likelihood, Kris Medlen, though Chris Young could be the choice (I’d go Medlen, as he’s more of a groundball pitcher and that game will be in Rogers Centre, but no one asks me these things).

Like seemingly every other matchup this postseason, this one seems very, very close. The Jays’ power vs. the Royals’ annoying (to the opposition) habit of making contact and stringing together hits. Stroman and Price at the top of the Jays’ rotation vs. a Royals team which still possesses an amazing bullpen. Crazy fans in both places, dying for a decades-long World Series title drought to end.

Who’s to blame for “The Daniel Murphy Play?”

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No matter what happens in the NLCS, “The Daniel Murphy” play is destined to go down in Mets lore.

You’ve no doubt seen it by now: New York trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Murphy on first base and a shift to the right on for Lucas Duda. Duda walks, Murhpy strolls to second and, when he gets there, no Dodgers fielder calls “time” and no one moves to cover third. Murphy sprints to third base:

Right after that, Murphy scored on a Travis d'Arnaud sac fly to tie things up. The momentum changed and, later, Murphy’s home run off of Zack Greinke proves to be the winning run rather than the merely tying run. Just a back breaker for the Dodgers. Losing is bad enough. But losing with a large assist to a brain fart is even worse.

And — while we should all first and foremost give Murphy credit for a supremely heads-up play in a game he almost single-handedly won for the Mets — it still was a brain fart, right? A failure of execution by the defense? Because that play shouldn’t happen, right? Don Mattingly said so after the game, at least, and it’s hard to take issue with what he says here:

“That’s probably [shortstop] Corey [Seager] there, whoever is on that side. We don’t shift a ton, but that’s probably his responsibility there. That’s probably all of our responsibility there on the field, talking about it and making sure that we know. With the walk, that guy’s going and Corey has to stay there, but we all should be communicating, ‘Get to third! Get to third!’ We all have to take responsibility.”

Someone needs to either call time out while the defense realigns itself or else the defense needs to realign itself a lot faster. Seems pretty straightforward. Of course, not everyone thinks it was so straightforwardly a matter of execution. Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times thinks it’s a matter of philosophy:

Mattingly blamed the naked base caper on rookie Corey Seager, but, in a broader sense, the blame will be felt by new Dodgers baseball boss Andrew Friedman. This was a case of old-fashioned hustle beating the sort of new-age baseball shift that has been implemented here by the Friedman regime. It is a shift that has sometimes succeeded but still requires more work, especially on a team with a rookie shortstop.

And here . . . we . . . go.

Though it should be unnecessary to note such a thing by now, let us humor Mr. Plaschke and remind everyone that there is nothing “new-age” about defensive shifts in baseball. As Joe Posnanski wrote two years ago when discussing Lou Boudreau shifting against Ted Williams in 1946, managers at the time noted that such shifts were employed at least 25 years before that, which means shifting for pull hitters, though rare until recently, is a nearly century-old phenomenon.

Let us also note that a base runner taking an extra base thanks to the shift, though itself rare, is not unheard of. As the TBS broadcasters noted last night, Johnny Damon famously did it in the 2009 World Series against the Phillies. Dustin Pedroia did it two years ago. Mookie Betts did it this very season. It probably happens more often than that. Those were just the examples I found quickly Googling.

The victims of those plays were Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel’s Phillies, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Scioscia’s Angels and Mike Rizzo and Matt Williams’ Nationals. If you can find three examples of less-New-Agey baseball brain trusts, be my guest, because I can’t think of any. Which is to say that last night’s play — or those other examples — was not a matter of front office philosophy. It was a matter of execution, pure and simple. Baseball players not doing their jobs and keeping their heads in the game.

And it certainly was not a matter of too much shifting. Indeed, as Mark Simon of ESPN noted over the summer, the Dodgers are one of the least-shifting teams around:

As written in Plaschke’s own Los Angeles Times in July, shifting has been highly effective for teams which employ it (i.e. every team). By one measure cited in that article, shifting saved nearly 200 runs for MLB defenses in the first half of the season alone. Rather than look askance at Andrew Freidman’s allegedly “new-age” shifting, the Dodgers should actually be shifting more. Maybe if they did it more, their defenders would be more in the habit of covering third base in situations like the one that burned them last night.

I assume Plaschke actually knows that, however. His calculatedly understated “sometimes effective” disclaimer aside, he knows that shifts are effective and that there’s nothing crazy about them in this day and age. Or an older day and age either. No, what this is all about is the creation of a new hobby horse for the venerable Los Angeles Times columnist. Or the resurrection of an old one. You see, Plaschke simply hates today’s stock of younger, educated and analytically-bent baseball executives.

Back when the Dodgers hired Billy Beane acolyte Paul DePodesta (now a member of the triumphant Mets’ front office!) as their general manager in 2004, Los Angeles Times columnists — Plaschke included — decided that he was a no good sabermetric nerd and, as a group, decided that it was their business and duty to run him out of his job. Which, eventually, they did. Plaschke was probably the least vehement about going after DePodesta — it was more T.J. Simers’ beat — but he certainly was an accomplice. And though he claims to evolved on the matter of analytics in baseball, he showed last December that he will not let that evolution get in the way of a good nerd bashing. Nerd bashing sells papers and sounds good on those annoying shout-fest TV shows on which he appears over at ESPN.

There’s a lot to bash about this Dodgers team. Plaschke correctly notes that Don Mattingly likely has to go. And the front office is certainly not blameless here as, if you’re gonna spend $300 million on payroll, you sure as hell better have a deeper pitching staff and a few better hitters than the Dodgers have at the moment. There is some serious roster restructuring in store for L.A. this offseason and, I suspect, a new manager will be in place in relatively short order.

But the Dodgers didn’t lose last night’s game because of front office philosophy, new-age or otherwise. They lost last night’s game because they failed to execute. They failed to take advantage of copious opportunities with runners on base and they failed to play heads-up baseball when Daniel Murphy was trotting from first to second.

Put differently: they just got beat.