The darkest days are upon the city of Los Angeles after the news broke that the Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw would be sidelined for four to six weeks after leaving his start on Sunday afternoon after two innings.
Despite the big blow for the Dodgers, all hope is not lost for the boys in blue. Should Kershaw be sidelined for six weeks that puts a projected timetable near the middle of September, which could leave Kershaw with a few starts before the postseason begins. But that’s not what this article is about, Anthony Perez already sheds light on the silver linings of the injury. I’m examining what this means moving forward.
So Kershaw for the second consecutive year has been placed on the DL with a back related injury. Although this injury is not related to the injury that sidelined him for two and a half months last season, this does mark the third time in the past four years that he has had back problems.
While the fact that the back injury this time around is not disk related is encouraging news, the idea that he started having back spasms after strengthening these core muscles last year is concerning. Now another encouraging sign is that he hasn’t shown any lingering issues from these injuries.
Last season Kershaw was 11-1 with a 1.57 ERA before going on the DL in late June, and this season Kershaw is 15-2 with a 2.04 ERA in 141.1 innings pitched. In the past four seasons, Kershaw has a combined ERA of 1.90 in 721.1 innings pitched. Those are flat out dominant numbers for any pitcher let alone a pitcher dealing with back issues three of those four seasons.
Fast forward to what this means for Kershaw and the Dodgers moving forward. Kershaw is due $33 million dollars the next two seasons before 2019. In 2019, Kershaw has an opt-out clause which allows him to seek a new deal with the Dodgers likely paying him north of $40 million per year.
This begs the question, should the Dodgers be willing to make that type of investment on an ailing 31-year-old (in 2019) pitcher with back issues. The answer is still up in the air, but for the sake of argument, I’ll say yes.
Earlier this year we predicted what Kershaw’s contract could look like if he opts-out after the 2018 season. That contract remains to be valid at this point, but I’d be inclined to make some changes. First off, it will be difficult to see these owners offer a player anything longer than six years especially considering his back issues. The likelihood of Kershaw opting out of his deal after the 2018 season is inevitable and with Stephen Strasburg ($38m) and Max Scherzer ($37m) scheduled to make more than Kershaw’s $34 million it would make sense for Kershaw to do so. So here’s what I’d do.
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I’d front load Kershaw’s next contract to be top heavy so the Dodgers could rest assured that they are paying for a player that will continue to perform at the level. If indeed Kershaw is looking for upwards of $40 million annually, I don’t have an issue with the Dodgers ownership giving that to him even with the back problems.
A marginal four or five-year deal that would take Kershaw to his 35-year-old season and would give both Kershaw the salary that he wants and the Dodgers the ability to avoid overpaying for a player out of his prime *cough cough Angels with Albert Puljos*. After that contract, the Dodgers can evaluate how Kershaw is performing and whether he’s worth another contract.
The Dodgers can do this because they have their young stars under control until 2019. Corey Seager and Joc Pederson aren’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2018 season.
The fact of the matter is that Kershaw is still too good to let walk away from the Dodgers organization. The back injuries are concerning because they are looking like a chronic injury that has led to significant structural damage which is affecting his long term out look with the team.
It’s clear that Kershaw has reached a pitching threshold that affects his body after a certain amount of work. Maybe it’s time for Dave Roberts and the front office to manage Kershaw’s pitch count more so that he doesn’t push his body to the edge of his pain threshold.
I’m starting to get concerned that these injuries are a reoccurring issue for Kershaw, but I’m not going to be that guy that suggests the Dodgers let Kershaw walk. He’s too valuable to this organization. I’m just saying it’s worth monitoring moving forward.