Predicting Value, Impact of Record-Breaking Clayton Kershaw Dodgers Extension

Jason CataniaMLB Lead WriterJanuary 15, 2014

USA Today

Widely considered the best pitcher in Major League Baseball, Clayton Kershaw has won two of the past three National League Cy Young Awards and three straight ERA titles, and he's done so by the age of 25 years old. Lucky for him, he also plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the funds to lock up the left-hander long-term right now.

That, in fact, appears to be the plan too. The Dodgers, owners of the largest projected payroll for the 2014 season, have indicated they are looking to sign Kershaw to a "record-breaking deal this week," as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Buster Olney of ESPN confirmed the initial report.

Aside from the record-breaking element to this—which we'll get to in a minute—the other key takeaway from Rosenthal's story is that after months of fits and starts with Kershaw on the extension front, the Dodgers want to get this done. Like, now.

"We've had conversations for a while, and we'll see where they lead," general manager Ned Colletti said last week, via Austin Laymance of MLB.com. "It's our desire to sign him here for a very long time."

The sudden push to try to get an extension hammered out, according to Rosenthal, appears to be spurred by Kershaw's filing for salary arbitration Tuesday.

The deadline for the two sides to submit proposed salaries for 2014 is Friday, which is why the Dodgers are hoping to get this over with by then rather than even begin to worry about the awkward arbitration process.

Rosenthal also points out that any deal could include an opt-out clause that would let Kershaw get out of the contract after five years and hit the open market at age 30, thus allowing him the chance to pick his next team and/or score another massive nine-figure deal.

Now, as for the "record-breaking" aspect, here are the rumored terms that are in play, straight from Rosenthal: "Kershaw and the Dodgers discussed a variety of proposals early in the negotiations, including 10 years, $250 million and $12 years, $300 million, sources said."

While there were reports last October that a number as high as $300 million was being thrown around for Kershaw, per Olney, it's hard to see that happening. That figure would make the left-hander the highest-paid player in the history of baseball, ahead of Alex Rodriguez's record 10-year, $275 million contract.

That doesn't mean Kershaw won't come close to that range, though. And frankly, it would be shocking if the Dodgers ace doesn't at least set one record—for the largest contract ever handed out to a pitcher.

The Five Largest Pitcher Contracts in MLB History
PITCHERTEAMTERMSSEASONS COVERED
Justin VerlanderTigers7 years, $180 M2013-2019
Felix HernandezMariners7 years, $175 M2013-2019
CC SabathiaYankees7 years, $161 M2009-2015
Zack GreinkeDodgers6 years, $147 M2013-2018
Cole HamelsPhillies6 years, $144 M2013-2018
Cots Contracts

The largest to date, going by total value, are Justin Verlander's seven-year, $180 million extension and Felix Hernandez's seven-year, $175 million extension—both signed during spring training a year ago—and CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million pact from December 2008.

Assuming Kershaw's extension gets wrapped up shortly, the minimum should be something like seven years and $210 million—that's $30 million per—which surpasses Verlander's deal.

It's very possible that the final number is closer to $250 million than $200 million, although that will depend on the number of years. Anything north of that, though, and the Dodgers may just be bidding against themselves a bit too much.

Especially given the team's other financial obligations to players like Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke, each of whom has $100 million-plus remaining on his contract. Not to mention, Carl Crawford still is owed more than $80 million.

Then there's the fact that the Dodgers are after Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka and have long been considered one of the favorites to land the right-hander. Speculation has been that Tanaka will get at least $100 million—in addition to the $20 million release fee—and recent reports, like the one from Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times, put the number in the $140 million range.

From the Dodgers' perspective, the timing of this Kershaw news is at least somewhat curious with regard to how it might impact their chase for Tanaka. Certainly, they want to polish off the guy who is currently on their team, but isn't it possible that any massive amount of money used on Kershaw could force Los Angeles to back off Tanaka?

That would then impact the market for the Japanese ace, who now has fewer than 10 days to sign a contract with a major league team.

And there's yet another mouth that will need feeding soon, that of Hanley Ramirez. Like Kershaw, the shortstop—as much a catalyst as anyone else on the team during its historic rise from last place in the NL West in late June to the division crown by the end of the season—is set to be a free agent himself after the 2014 season.

If the Dodgers pay Kershaw and perhaps Tanaka, too, will they have any money left over for Hanley Ramirez?
If the Dodgers pay Kershaw and perhaps Tanaka, too, will they have any money left over for Hanley Ramirez?Ed Zurga/Getty Images

That's another $100-150 million dollar pact waiting to happen in all likelihood. Whether the Dodgers, as deep as their pockets are, can afford to make all this happen remains to be seen. Whether they should, of course, is more easily answered, given the lengthy history of regrettable nine-figure contracts in the sport.

Regardless, a new extension for Kershaw appears imminent at the moment and could happen within the next 48 hours. In this case, both the timing and the total will be significant, and in the case of the latter, almost definitely record-breaking, too.

 

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