Dodgers: The Slow Winter Complicates Kershaw’s Opt Out Decision

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw /

Is the hot stove broken?  This winter has been an unusual free-agent market where teams appear unwilling to offer big long-term deals to free agents.

The Dodgers goal this off-season was to get under the luxury tax threshold and stay under it for the 2018 season in order to reset their tax penalties.  While the Dodgers have not made any big free-agent splashes, the majority of the league appears to be sitting on the sidelines for this year’s free-agent market.  Even the winter meetings, which usually ignite a flurry of activity, came and went without much activity.

There has been widespread speculation about what is causing this year’s lack of free-agent signings.  Some think that teams are just being smarter about handing out big money long-term deals to players.  Many think teams like the Dodgers are sitting out in order to save money to splurge in the big 2018 market.  This is when names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keucehl will be free-agents.  There is a chance Clayton Kershaw could join them if he decides to opt out of his current deal after this season.

The decision to opt out was once seen as a slam dunk for Kershaw but now things appear to be more muddled by the day.  Not only has Kershaw dealt with multiple back injuries over the past couple of seasons, but now he might have to deal with the fact that teams no longer want to be handicapped by enormous long-term contracts.  With stiffer luxury tax penalties, even teams like the Dodgers who have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend, are no longer willing to spend over the luxury tax line every season.

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The gauge for Kershaw’s decision will likely come down to what ultimately happens with Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.  There is no doubt that Kershaw is better than both, but if neither sign a big money deal for at least five years, then Kershaw may be content with making close to $70 million dollars over the next two seasons.  It would be better for Kershaw to make over 33 million a season over the next two years and then sign a shorter deal afterward than to opt out and get less money per season in exchange more years.

Outside of the changing free agent landscape, the biggest factor in Clayton’s decision of whether to opt out or not will come down to his health in 2018.  Kershaw went down with a back strain last season and then he dealt with a bulging disk in his back in 2016.  If Kershaw once again goes down with an injury this season and misses significant time, then that will be one more dent in Kershaw’s chances of opting out.  If Kershaw makes it through the season healthy then his decision will be made based off of monetary reasons.

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The best outcome for the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw, and of course Dodgers fans is that Kershaw will agree to a new deal either during the season or shortly after the conclusion of the 2018 season.  The Dodgers can most likely keep Kershaw’s salary at the 34.5 and 35.5 he would have made if he didn’t opt out and then tack on three to four seasons after that which would essentially turn into a five to six-year extension.  That would take Kershaw to age 35 or 36 years old which could be as long as he wants to play.  Not only would that provide Kershaw with fair value, but it would keep Kershaw in a Dodger uniform for the rest of his career, at a very reasonable price.