How Much Should Clayton Kershaw Be Paid Next Season?


If it was up to me I would immediately sign southpaw Clayton Kershaw to a long-term deal much like what the Dodgers did with Matt Kemp this offseason. Like Kemp, Kershaw is a franchise player who is coming off of a nothing short of spectacular season at the ripe old age of 23. I say sign him now to at least a 5-year deal, heck let’s just sign him for 8-10 years and be done with it. Ned Colletti has said the Dodgers haven’t ruled out signing him to a long-term contract. Kershaw now remains the last Dodger seeking arbitration after James Loney and Andre Ethier agreed upon 1-year deals earlier this week. Ethier will receive $10.95 million plus performance bonuses and Loney will get $6.375 in 2012.

Kershaw filed arbitration, and is looking for $10 million next season or 20 times the $500,000 he earned last season. The Dodgers have offered $6.5 million. He of course is due for a humongous raise. A February hearing would be heard by a three-member arbitration panel. Both sides of would argue their case, and then there would be rebuttals heard. The panel would then choose one salary or the other. If Kershaw wins his case, he would receive the highest salary of any starting pitcher in their first or second arbitration eligible year. Jered Weaver, who lost his arbitration case last year but still received $7.365 million, now holds the record.

Most likely negotiations will continue, and an arbitration hearing would be unlikely since only a handful of cases go to court each year. The Dodgers have not gone to a hearing with one of their players since 2007. The Dodgers and Clayton could still agree on a 1-year or multi-year deal before then.

The Dodgers last Cy Young award winner, Eric Gagne, received a raise from $550,000 to $5 million through an arbitration hearing after Gagne filed for a salary of $8 million in 2004. Since the inception of salary arbitration 36 years ago, the Dodgers are 14-6 in cases decided by a hearing and 6-1 in their last seven cases, dating back to 1991. The last player to beat the Dodgers in a hearing was Terry Adams in 2001.

Is Clayton Kershaw worth $10 million? Sure he is. Look at the astronomical sum 27-year old Tim Lincecum of the Giants is seeking. $21.5 million. The Giants have counter offered at $17 million. Both figures would give Lincecum a record salary for a player with less than 6 years worth of service. I can certainly argue that although Lincecum is a great pitcher and has won two Cy Youngs and helped the Giants win the World Series for the first time in San Francisco, Clayton Kershaw is the better and more dominating pitcher and younger to boot (Kersh turns 24 on March 19th). We watched Kershaw go head-to-head with Lincecum four times last season, and Clayton dominated in all four starts. Lincecum had a 1.24 ERA in the four battles, and Kershaw had an eye-popping 0.30 ERA. The final scores of those games were 2-1, 1-0, 2-1, and 2-1. The Dodgers won all four games. The first win came on Opening Day versus the reigning champs, and the fourth victory was Kershaw’s 20th win on the season. Not only did Kershaw dominate his foe Lincecum, but he dominated the entire National League last season.

The Phillies also agreed to a $15 million 1-year deal with Cole Hamels this week. Hamels is 28. Let’s compare these three pitchers:

In 4 seasons Kershaw has a 47-28 record with a 2.88 ERA, 745 strikeouts

(9.4 SO/9), 278 walks (3.5 BB/9), and WHIP 1.173.

In 5 season, “The Freak” is 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA, 1127 strikeouts (9.9 SO/9), 379 walks (3.3 BB/9), and WHIP 1.188.

In 6 seasons, Cole Hamels is 74-54 with a 3.39 ERA, 1091 Strikeouts (8.5 SO/9), 292 walks (2.3 BB/9), and WHIP 1.141 projects Kershaw’s salary to be at $8.4 million for 2012 in his first arbitration eligible year. Kershaw will be eligible for free agency in 2015.

Most likely the Dodgers will come to terms with Kersh before an arbitration hearing is necessary. Should they sign him to a long-term deal we can look at comparables around the Majors such as the 5-year $78 million deal garnered by Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander‘s $80 million 5-year deal.

Kershaw, who’s focusing on his book tour, declined to comment on the status of his contract negotiations:

"“I’m not talking about that now,” said Kershaw, the team’s player representative. “We’ll see what happens. You never know.”"

If Kershaw wins his case for $10 million we cannot by any means say it’s overreaching when we look at the astonishing season he gave us. Clayton, with his charity  Kershaw’s Challenge, is truly an inspiration on and off the field. I’d gladly play $10 million for a repeat 2011 season, but I’d rather see the Sandy Koufax of our generation locked up in Blue for the long term.