The most celebrated pitching tandem in baseball was broken up Wednesday — at least temporarily — when Zack Greinke exercised a provision in his contract to become a free agent.
Greinke could still return to the Dodgers and resume his partnership with Clayton Kershaw, but that would almost certainly require the team's front office to do something out of character and offer a long-term deal to a pitcher who turned 32 last month.
Greinke forfeited a guaranteed $71 million over the next three seasons to venture back into the open market, where he is expected to land a nine-figure deal.
The top pitcher on the market last year, Max Scherzer, signed with the Washington Nationals for $210 million over seven years. Jon Lester landed with the Chicago Cubs for $155 million over six years.
Greinke is older than Scherzer and Lester were last winter — Scherzer and Lester were 30 — but he is coming off a dominant season.
The co-favorite for the National League Cy Young Award alongside Jake Arrieta of the Cubs, Greinke was 19-3 with a major league-leading 1.66 earned-run average. The last time a pitcher had an ERA that low was 1995, when Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves had a 1.63 ERA.
As a right-handed complement to the left-handed Kershaw over the last three seasons, Greinke started 92 games for the Dodgers, posting a 51-15 record with a 2.30 ERA.
Mark Walter, the Dodgers' controlling owner, has said he would leave the decision about Greinke to Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, and Farhan Zaidi, general manager. Neither club executive has commented publicly on the club's plans.
"If this is Zack's last season with us, I've had a great time playing with him," Kershaw said last month. "Definitely some of the most fun I've ever had watching someone pitch every five days. I hope it's not the last one."
But Greinke's performance made his decision Wednesday entirely expected.
When Greinke signed a six-year, $147-million contract leading up to the 2013 season, the Dodgers included the opt-out provision as a compromise for their refusal to grant him a no-trade clause.
The Dodgers could now pay for that decision. Their only healthy starting pitchers under contract are Kershaw and Alex Wood, a midseason acquisition who was 5-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts for them.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is recovering from a shoulder operation. Brandon McCarthy is expected to be sidelined until the middle of the upcoming season as he works his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery.
The next step for the Dodgers will be more of a formality than anything; they have until Friday to make Greinke a qualifying offer. They are expected to make similar offers to second baseman Howie Kendrick and left-hander Brett Anderson, who are also free agents.
Greinke is certain to reject the offer, which is for a one-year deal worth $15.8 million. If Greinke turns down the proposal and signs elsewhere, the Dodgers would receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the draft next year.
The market should provide the Dodgers with alternatives to Greinke.
This free-agent class is particularly rich in pitching, including frontline starters David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann.
Price is 30. Cueto and Zimmermann are 29.
The level below also has plenty of depth, with Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, Marco Estrada, Bartolo Colon, J.A. Happ and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Greinke said he has enjoyed his time with the Dodgers. Shortly after the Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs, he said he hoped to return.
"That would be nice," he said.