News broke yesterday that the Los Angeles Dodgers and left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw agreed to a seven-year, $215 million contract extension that will cover his age 26-32 seasons. According to MLB.com, the deal contains an opt-out clause that would allow Kershaw to opt out after five years, setting him up to get another massive contract after his age 30 season. The contract is the richest ever for a pitcher and it has the highest average annual value for any player, regardless of position.
I think this deal was a no brainer for the Dodgers, and you can argue that they got a discount with this deal. No question, there is a massive amount of risk with giving a pitcher this type of money, but if there is any pitcher to make this type of investment in, it’s Kershaw. In my mind, if the Dodgers and Kershaw did not agree to this deal before the season began, this deal would have never happened and the Dodgers would have likely had to pay a premium to keep his services if Kershaw had reached free agency. If Kershaw was able to continue his dominance on his mound in 2014 and reach free agency, there is no telling how much a team would have given him. $300 million would not have been out of the question.
With the extension, the Dodgers are able to pencil Kershaw in at the top of the rotation for at least the next seven years and lead their staff. What does that mean for the Dodgers? Here are the last three seasons for Kershaw:
2011: 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 233.1 IP, 248 K, .98 WHIP, 161 ERA+
2012: 14-5, 2.53 ERA, 227.2 IP, 229 K, 1.02 WHIP, 150 ERA+
2013: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 236 IP, 232 K, .92 WHIP, 194 ERA+
Any team in baseball would sign up for a pitcher like Kershaw to lead their staff, and very few have the luxury of having a pitcher capable of putting up similar numbers (along with Kershaw, Verlander, Scherzer, Price, Hernandez, Sale, Lee, and Wainwright may all fall on the short list of ace type pitchers). In the last three seasons, he has led the NL in ERA and in 2011 and 2013 he led the NL in strikeouts (in 2012 R.A. Dickey had 230 strikeouts to Kershaw’s 229). In 2011 and 2013 he was the NL Cy Young award winner. Entering his age 26 season, Kershaw should be able to continue his pitching dominance and pitch at an elite level.
With the Dodgers in ‘win-now’ mode, they have their ace to lead them to a title. Kershaw has the resume for the part, with two Cy Young awards, two All-Star appearances, and ERA titles to his name. Adding in Greinke, Ryu, Haren, Beckett, and Billingsley, the Dodgers have the quality and quantity to match the top rotations of the NL. If the Dodgers are able to win a title or two in the next seven years, the $215 million that they will be paying Kershaw may turn out to be a bargain.
Looking at how this affects the rest of Major League Baseball, it will be interesting to see what kind of contract Max Scherzer gets after the 2014 season. Entering his final year before free agency, the reigning Cy Young award winner in the American League will likely be looking for a contract in between Kershaw’s $215 million and Verlander’s $180 million. With Scott Boras as the agent, the Scherzer camp may try to exceed the Kershaw contract and may succeed in doing so with multiple teams likely bidding for his services. In addition, I can only imagine what this does for a player like Mike Trout. Every day that goes by, the Angels better come to terms with handing out a $300+ million contract.
Getting back to Kershaw, the man got his payday. It was well deserved and, as stated above, may be looked at as a bargain when the contract is completed. Now it is time appreciate the greatness of Kershaw, as we watch what could be one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all-time when all is said and done if he continues on his current path. I looking forward to watching Kershaw do his thing, leading the Dodgers staff and shutting down lineups every five days.