The Collateral Implications of Clayton Kershaw’s Contract
For the Dodgers
The Dodgers must have a financial limit. Somewhere. But considering their willingness to spend money, the Dodgers’ payroll constraints are like the finite nature of the universe—we believe it exists but have no concrete proof or an idea of exactly where it is.
$215 million is a lot of money for a player in general and a massive commitment to a pitcher no matter how young and durable he is. For the Dodgers, though, it’s not an overreach simply because they have the money and spending this amount on Kershaw won't preclude them from making other acquisitions. Had they decided to be fiscally prudent and wait until Kershaw was a free agent after the 2014 season to see if any team was going to go crazy to sign him, then top the best offer to keep him, they might have saved $20 million or so. But why? At that level, is there that great a difference between $215 million and $195 million?
Let’s say the Dodgers let Kershaw walk if a team did make an offer he couldn’t refuse. They would still have Zack Greinke to front their rotation and a ton of money to spend. You know what they would have been looking to spend that money on? A top-tier starting pitcher. The one that is available via trade and will have to be paid in the $160 million-plus range is David Price. To get Price, the Dodgers are going to have to either gut their system to get him now and then spend the money to sign him or wait and hope the team that does trade for him lets him leave as a free agent. It was a better long-term decision to keep Kershaw.
Any pitcher is a risk. They’re giving him an average of $30 million a year, but it’s not a ten year contract and there’s an opt-out after five years. Even if there’s the inevitable injury such as Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers will still get Kershaw at something replicating the top of his game for 75 percent of the duration of the deal. Considering the options out there and what they’d have to spend to replace him, having the best pitcher in baseball or, with a slight decline, a very good pitcher for that amount of time is worth the money.
Kershaw is a homegrown talent and is in a great pitchers’ park at Dodger Stadium. The lure of free agency must have held some intrigue with Kershaw wondering if there was the possibility that one of his home state teams in Texas would be interested in trying to sign him; to see how over the top the Yankees decided to go; if the Cubs, Angels, Red Sox and any other team with money to burn would’ve dived into the pool with a blank checkbook.
But would they have surpassed the Dodgers’ offer of $215 million? Would they have given Kershaw the freedom not to have to think about free agency and let it distract him? To stay where he’s been for his entire professional career for a team that spends money? One that gives him a chance to win multiple championships and to craft a Hall of Fame resume with accompanying rings?
Robinson Cano got his money from the Mariners, but look what he’s surrounded by. They spent so much to get Cano that if there’s any attempt to bring in another pricey player, they’re going to need approval from ownership. So what was the point other than to make a big splash with small ripples? This is not a problem the Dodgers and Kershaw will face.