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Clayton Kershaw contract befitting best pitcher in baseball

The Dodgers front office at Dodger Stadium and Clayton Kershaw from his home in Texas on Friday discussed the record contract extension that makes the left-hander the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.

With Clayton Kershaw at home in Texas, Ned Colletti and Stan Kasten were in Los Angeles to discuss the record contract extension.
With Clayton Kershaw at home in Texas, Ned Colletti and Stan Kasten were in Los Angeles to discuss the record contract extension.
Eric Stephen | True Blue LA

LOS ANGELES --The Dodgers finalized the seven-year, $215 million contract extension for Clayton Kershaw on Friday, and as expected everyone was pretty much all smiles at the introductory press conference at Dodger Stadium.

Or on the phone from Texas, which was the case for Kershaw, who joined reporters via conference call.

"We've all seen a lot of players and a lot of great pitchers in our careers," said general manager Ned Colletti. "There are those that stand out above all the rest, including Clayton."

Kershaw won his second National League Cy Young Award in three seasons in 2013, going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, the third straight year he led the majors in ERA. He also led the NL with 232 strikeouts in a career-high 236 innings. Kershaw doesn't turn 26 until March.

"He checks all the boxes," said president and CEO Stan Kasten. "On the field, off the field, in the community, homegrown, age-wise, it really was the perfect storm really for Clayton and the Dodgers."

"It's a pretty humbling thing," Kershaw said. "To have the support of the front office with Ned and Stan, and the ownership group, with Mark and Todd and the rest of them, it's pretty cool to know they believe in us that much."

Kershaw was eligible for salary arbitration in 2014, and would have been a free agent after the season. Though the negotiations took over a year to complete, there was never much of a sense from either side that Kershaw would actually reach free agency without a new deal.

"During the season it's always hard to think about that stuff. Once the season started, there was still some talk going on but I didn't let myself think about it too much," Kershaw said. "But once the offseason started I kind of always had a feeling it was always going to work out.

"There's never really been a sense of urgency, knowing I was going to be in Los Angeles this next year regardless."

Colletti wouldn't specifically discuss the other offers on the table during the negotiations - reported to be as much as 10 or 12 years and in the $300 million range - but did say, "We talked about a lot of different concepts."

The two sides ultimately settled on a seven-year contract worth $215 million, the largest contract ever for a pitcher, and the largest average annual value for any player. The way Kershaw described the contract has to make new Players Union executive director Tony Clark jump for joy.

"If someone should have that contract, it should be the best pitcher in baseball." -Dodgers CEO & president Stan Kasten

"I didn't really think about it in terms of myself. But you always think about the next guy. That's why our union is so good and why the Players Union always sticks together," Kershaw said. "We try to set a precedent for the next guy, and that's always the goal. Hopefully in the near future somebody comes along and beats it, and continues to work that way."

Colletti alluded to deals signed last winter by Justin Verlander (heading into his age-30 season) and Felix Hernandez (heading into age-27 season), both of whom had two years remaining on existing contracts and signed five-year extensions, worth an annual average of $28 million and $27.1 million, respectively.

Kershaw, four years younger than Verlander at the time of the deal and a year younger than Hernandez, averages $30.7 million per season, and the six would-be-free-agent seasons average $32.17 million.

"It's tough to have in our mind the best pitcher in baseball, the youngest best pitcher in baseball, and then tell him we're not going to do what other [teams] have done for other [pitchers]," Colletti said. "That wouldn't have been the right approach for someone who sits at the top of the group."

"If someone should have that contract, it should be the best pitcher in baseball," added Kasten, who was also aware of the risks of signing a pitcher for seven years.

"We know all the precedents, we know all the risks. A big part of this for us was to get as much protection as we could from insurance, which we did," Kasten said. "A big, big factor for us, that really was a positive for us, was Clayton's age. We have that going for us. I'd feel differently doing this contract with a player in his mid-30s than in his mid-20s."

Kershaw will make a total of $150 million in the first five years of the deal, then can opt-out after the 2018 season if he so chooses, with two years and $65 million left on the contract. The shorter option appealed to Kershaw, as did the seven-year deal as opposed to something like a decade-long deal.

"I always want to be able to see the end. I want to be able to know I can pitch at a very high level. I felt that with anything longer than that, I would have been overwhelmed trying to live up to the expectations of that contract," Kershaw said. "The seven years, and especially the fifth-year opt out, were important to me so I can be at my best for a specific amount of time."

The opt-out clause has been a staple of recent Dodgers pitching contracts. Zack Greinke can opt out of his deal after the 2015 season, and Hyun-jin Ryu can opt out after 2017 if he totals 750 innings from 2013-2017. But none of the three pitchers have a no-trade clause, per club policy.

"I hate no-trade clauses," said Kasten. "I've never done one.

"Opt outs are more reasonable to us, particularly in our circumstances in L.A. with the resources and appeal we have. I'm much more comfortable with the opt-out under certain circumstances. I wouldn't just give it out willy-nilly, but there are times when it really has value in the course of a negotiation. That has been the case in these most recent negotiations."

While Kershaw doesn't have a no-trade clause, he has kickers if he is traded. Kershaw would get a bonus if traded - reportedly $3 million per Joel Sherman of the New York Post - and would also gain the right to opt out of the contract after pitching a full season with his new team.

Kershaw currently has five years, 105 days of service time, and would gain full no-trade rights as a "10 and five" player (at least 10 years of major league service, including at least five consecutive years with one team) in early June 2018.

Kershaw can also earn bonuses annually in his seven-year deal, per Beth Harris of The Associated Press. Kershaw gets $1 million for winning the Cy Young, and $500,000 if he finishes second or third. Kershaw finished second in NL Cy Young balloting in 2012, the one year of the last three seasons in which he didn't capture the award.

The $18 million signing bonus is split until three equal payments in 2014, per Harris: $6 million on April 15, $6 million on July 15, and $6 million on September 15.

Incidentally, Kershaw also had performance bonuses in his previous contract, a two-year, $19 million contract signed before the 2012 season. Kershaw earned $200,000 in incentives in 2012, per the Associated Press, then had his base salary increase by $500,000 in 2013, and earned another $300,000 in bonuses last year, pushing the total value of the contract to $20 million.

Kershaw said he is no fan of talking about the business side of baseball, but plans to utilize his new contract to support his charitable foundation, Kershaw's Challenge. Along with his wife Ellen, Kershaw has built and maintains an orphanage in Africa, and is also active with Sharefest in Los Angeles and Mercy Street in Dallas.

"Contracts and money is something that is uncomfortable for me to talk about. At the same time I realize what a tremendous blessing it is, and what a tremendous responsibility it is," Kershaw said. "Ellen and I understand the effects we can have on a lot of people with this money. That's what we're going to try to do and live out."

Getting the contract done can allow Kershaw to focus on the field. After taking six weeks off after the season, his usual offseason routine, Kershaw began throwing in December. He threw a his first bullpen session last week and plans to do so once a week before pitchers and catchers report to Dodgers camp at Camelback Ranch in Arizona on February 8.

With the Dodgers making the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in four years, coupled with the early start to the regular season - March 22 in Australia - Kershaw's offseason was shorter than ever this winter. But he said he'll be ready, per usual.

"I feel great, I don't feel any different," Kershaw said. "I don't expect there to be any problems with that."