As most Dodger fans are aware, ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his seven-year, $215 million contract he signed prior to the 2014 season. The opt-out clause takes effect at the conclusion of this season.
If Kershaw is healthy and continues to be Kershaw, you can bet he will utilize this leverage. Or perhaps he has already? Kershaw and the Dodgers have kept quiet on potential contract negotiations. Kershaw remarked at the beginning of spring training that he and the Dodgers have an “open dialogue” about the extension. This is the only tidbit of information the public has received about any possible Kershaw extension with the Dodgers.
Kershaw has two years after this season remaining on the existing contract valued at $65 million. Should he leave that on the table, he and his representatives would do so only to add more years and value to any new MLB contract he would sign. So what is Kershaw worth on the upcoming 2018-2019 MLB open market? The starting pitching market this offseason will be pretty thin. Kershaw would undoubtedly be the cream of the crop. Drew Pomeranz and Dallas Keuchel will be the best-starting arms available, unless David Price opts-out. Price will likely stay put considering the injury concerns that have surrounded him. Consequently, this offseason is a good time to be Clayton Kershaw, a free agent pitcher. This is why you can expect he will opt-out.
It is safe to assume the Dodgers and Kershaw’s camp have had some semblance of negotiations on a new contract. Of course, it is likely the Dodgers are proceeding with caution given Kershaw’s recent string of back injuries. Likewise, Kershaw is probably not too eager to give up his chance on the open market for another record-setting contract, whether with the Dodgers when this offseason is all said and done, or one of the other 29 other teams. Well, let’s say 28 since the Marlins are not a realistic suitor.
Realistically, there are probably only a handful of teams that could afford Clayton. The Yankees and his hometown Rangers would be at the top of the list of his suitors. There would be some dark horse candidates too like the Braves or Phillies. Teams with money to spend, young stars, and a window of contention opening up that would welcome a veteran addition and leader like Kershaw. So what will it cost the Dodgers to keep Kershaw from donning a Texas Rangers or Atlanta Braves jersey on Opening Day 2019?
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There are not too many comps to compare to the greatest pitcher of this generation. Zack Greinke is not only the highest paid pitcher according to average annual value, but also the highest paid player just edging Mike Trout. We all know how Kershaw compares to Grienke since they were teammates for three years. Greinke is a talented pitcher, but he has his share of injury concerns and is four years older than Kershaw. Grienke is earning roughly $34 million per season on his Diamondbacks contract. What will it take to keep Kershaw? Also, what would be a prudent contract for the Dodgers to offer Kershaw, more so in terms of length?
Critics will surely point to Kershaw’s diminished velocity this season. That is understandable. However, if you take a deeper look, you will see with Kershaw’s slider and lights out curveball, together with his ability to locate his fastball, Kershaw will still be a star pitcher late into his thirties. He is a smart pitcher, a leader, a gritty competitor, and a future hall of famer. That being said, if the Dodgers make him the first $40 million a year player, it won’t be a surprise. It will likely take $200 million spread across five years, which would take Kershaw through his age 35 season.
Kershaw is an LA icon, and his loss would not only hurt the organization on the field, but it will also be a PR disaster. The Dodgers must make Kershaw a Dodger for life. Or at least keep him around long enough to win a World Series and start the 2020 All-Star game at Dodger Stadium!