With how lucrative pitching contracts have been the last few years, some outsiders looking in at the Los Angeles Dodgers situation are bewildered that Clayton Kershaw will earn just $40 million total across 2022 and 2023.
This is arguably the best pitcher of his entire generation. He should be in a similar AAV class as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, both of whom landed monster $43 million salaries with the New York Mets.
Once upon a time, Kershaw was the highest-paid starter in the game. He signed a seven-year, $215 million extension with the Dodgers back in 2014, and then the two sides agreed to a three-year, $93 million extension after the 2018 World Series.
Wait a second ... only a three-year extension heading into his age-31 season? When guys like Carlos Rodón, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Luis Castillo and others got at least five years? That age range is essentially the last time most players can secure that final, long-term lucrative contract.
Turns out, this is exactly what Kershaw wanted all along, as he relayed to Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times (subscription required) just ahead of Opening Day.
Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw reveals why he's signing contracts year to year
Back in 2014, before he agreed to the seven-year extension, Kershaw was weighing what might work best for him as it pertained to his commitment, ability and future outlook.
"At times during that process, Kershaw recalled, 'There were talks of doing 10, 15 years,' the kind of ultra-length deal likely to span the rest of his playing days. The only problem? 'I just never was comfortable committing to be good for that long,' Kershaw said."- Jack Harris of the LA Times
In essence, the year-to-year plan over the past few seasons that has kept Dodgers fans on high alert has offered a sense of tranquility to Kershaw, who told Harris he very much values his "freedom."
"I feel fully committed to this year. It might be [the same] next year. But I love the freedom of not being committed … I like the ability to reset after every year."- Kershaw, via the LA Times
Notice how he hasn't been guarded with talking about retirement ... or, even worse, potentially playing for the Texas Rangers. It's because he's comfortable with where he's at and can be honest with himself, depending on how he's feeling after each season now that he's in his mid-30s. Kershaw simply won't commit beyond what he can see for himself because he believes you "have to be good" whenever you sign a contract with a team, regardless of length.
He also seems to realize that his health issues since 2015 have clearly played a role in limiting the Dodgers in some capacity, which could be another reason he's opted for this approach of going with the flow and taking less money.
All that matters, though? Kershaw's here right now. Because he loves baseball and he believes in the Dodgers -- even after all the turnover over the last few years. If he's deciding to stay through all that and then speak on how he trusts the organization, then it bodes well for how his process is perceived by fans.