Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Period. His numbers speak for themselves. If he were to retire at the end of this season, he would still be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Because of that, the Dodgers are in an interesting position regarding his contract.
Here are the career statistics for the Dodgers‘ three-time Cy Young Award winner: 133 Wins – 62 Losses, 2.36 ERA, 1.002 WHIP, 24 complete games, 15 shutouts, 1,843 innings pitched, 2010 strikeouts, and one MVP award. Since breaking into the majors at the age of 20, his season ERAs are 4.26, 2.79, 2.91, 2.28, 2.53, 1.83, 1.77, 2.13, 1.69, 2.28 (this season).
For this reason, the Dodgers opened their checkbooks to keep Kershaw around, signing him to a seven-year $215 million extension in 2014 with a signing bonus of $18 million. However, his contract contains an opt-out clause after the 2018 season. Because of this, I will be examining how much his next contract could be worth.
After the 2018 season, we assume that Kershaw will opt-out of his contract, and you better believe that the Dodgers will do anything to bring him back. Kershaw will still be only 30-years-of-age and would most likely be seeking his last major long-term deal.
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In 2015, the Dodgers’ front office refused to offer Zack Greinke anything longer than a five-year contract and ended up letting him go to Arizona, who offered him an additional year. I believe that the Dodgers will look to sign Kershaw to a six or seven-year deal. They will be willing to give Kershaw the extra years Greinke was looking for because Kershaw will be 30 opposed to 32 at the time of the extension.
A seven-year deal would expire with Kershaw at the age of 37, which is old for a starting pitcher but not unheard of. Kershaw is the type of pitcher that I can still see being very effective in the latter part of his career due to his pitching style.
While he does rely on the velocity of his fastball, it is his slider and curveball that keep batters off balance. Also, the reason his fastball is so effective is his ability of pinpoint command, and that will help him age. In addition, his ever-developing changeup is something that would give the Dodgers confidence in giving him such a long deal.
Lastly, we get to the total value of the contract. In 2017, Kershaw is making $33 million plus an approximately additional $2.5 million due to the signing bonus. This makes Clayton the highest paid player in baseball but not by much. Greinke and David Price are the two next closest.
I believe Kershaw will command around $40 million dollars annually in his next contract. This number is incredibly high, and no baseball player has achieved that feat, but I think that the market will dictate it. With the looming free agency of young talents such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado during the same winter, baseball will probably see multiple $40 million annual contracts and maybe even a $50 million one.
Once that barrier is broken it cannot be undone. From that point on, contracts will only continue to rise. Given Kershaw’s success, every team in baseball will theoretically make a run at signing him because you would be stupid not too. Every team would like to add a Hall of Fame Ace to their staff, and this will only continue to drive up the left-hander’s price.
The high price tag will help the Dodgers retain Kershaw because they are one of the few franchises that can afford it. But free agency is always unpredictable, and anything can happen. I hope the Dodgers step up to the plate and pay the man.