Clayton Kershaw & the price of doing business

Doug Pensinger

The Dodgers got one contract extension done already, with manager Don Mattingly. Will they soon have another with ace Clayton Kershaw?

Clayton Kershaw was one of three Dodgers to file on Tuesday for salary arbitration, a system designed to facilitate one-year deals for players not yet eligible for free agency. But it's not a one-year deal the two sides are discussing, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

Kershaw, coming off his second Cy Young win, is eligible for arbitration for the final time and is currently on track to be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. To prevent that from happening, the Dodgers and Kershaw have been in discussions over a record-breaking deal that could pay $30 million per season for as many as 10 years. Through arbitration, Kershaw is estimated to earn roughly $18 million coming off a two-year, $19 million contract.

Emphasis mine.

This is not the first time such gaudy numbers have been used to describe a potential Kershaw contract, but it comes at a time more likely to produce action. The other rumors came during the season, when the hyper-focused Kershaw said repeatedly he did not want any distractions.

Now, with the two sides compelled to negotiate either directly or through the arbitration process, a contract agreement is more likely to occur.

The key number to watch is $28 million, which is the average annual value of the five-year extension signed by Tigers ace Justin Verlander before last season. Mariners top banana Felix Hernandez, who like Verlander also had two years remaining on his previous contract, also signed what amounted to a five-year extension with Seattle that averaged $27.1 million.

We discussed during spring training how Kershaw was both better and younger than those two, making him likely to eclipse those deals in annual value. Then Kershaw went out and captured his second Cy Young Award to add some very expensive icing to his cake, pushing his value even higher.

Keshaw, simply put, is the face of the franchise. It is unfathomable that the Dodgers, who have spent money like no other under the Guggenheim Partners ownership since May 2012, would let their crown jewel get away. But it's understandable that Kershaw, who entering his age-27 season next winter would arguably be the most attractive free agent pitcher of all-time, might want to experience that free agent process.

Which means the Dodgers might have to pay a premium to get the deal finished now. But whether it's a six-year deal or a 10-year deal or something in between, whether there's an opt-out clause or a no-trade clause or both, this is a contract that has to happen.

There is risk to such a deal, of course, as a 10-year contract for a pitcher hardly seems rational. The last pitcher to get more than seven years on a single deal was Mike Hampton, and that Rockies deal 13 years ago turned out to be a disaster.

We only have to look to Tim Lincecum for a recent cautionary tale. Lincecum, like Kershaw, had his two Cy Youngs in hand going through the arbitration process and signed a record two-year, $40.5 million contract for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Those two seasons, ages 28-29 for Lincecum, were pedestrian at best and terrible at worst, with a 4.76 ERA and 3.95 FIP in a pitcher's park in San Francisco.

Then again, Lincecum isn't Kershaw.

I admittedly have a hard time being rational when it comes to Kershaw. Call it a twitch after watching Pedro Martinez blossom into a Hall of Famer elsewhere and seeing Mike Piazza associate himself more with the Mets than Dodgers.

Keeping Kershaw will be expensive, and will surely set some sort of record. But letting him get away would be even more costly.

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