Even with a theoretical regression ahead of him, there simply aren’t many pitchers like the Dodgers‘ Clayton Kershaw.
Not just active. There aren’t really many Kershaws … in the history of baseball, and it might be a very long time before any more Kershaws emerge.
Pitchers just don’t pile up 200 innings annually from ages 22 to 27 anymore, buoyed by a high-stress curveball, then make it to age 41 without a few dings in the road and some serious pep talks along the way.
Most might use this as an argument against re-signing Kershaw. After all, won’t all that mileage affect the back half of his spectacular career? Aren’t we closer to the end than the beginning here?
For all the modern comps to weigh Kershaw’s future against (Justin Verlander? Max Scherzer? Somewhere in between?), the most natural fit still feels like Derek Jeter. During his final seasons in New York. When everyone on earth knew he and the Yankees could fight as much as they wanted, but that there would eventually be a pillow to land on at the end of the negotiations because this is where Jeter was meant to be.
The pillow might be harder than anticipated. It might be full of marbles. But, still, it was destined to be the landing spot. Kershaw, one of very few genuine aces in the game since 2010, should be treated the same way — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns remaining in the left-hander’s camp.
For example, the longevity concerns seem very legitimate on both sides. Maybe Kershaw’s career doesn’t stretch on infinitely, which the Dodgers don’t want to be on the hook for. Maybe Kershaw himself can already feel that motivation slipping as the body wanes, and has no desire to sign one last mega-deal.
From what we’ve heard, the pitcher is taking some time away this winter (aren’t we all?) to sit and ponder with family. Based on his detachment, a long-term contract seems foolish, and he doesn’t sound ready to, say, commit to four or five years with the Texas Rangers.
With that in mind, we foresee an expensive short-term agreement in LA, followed by similar bargaining sessions until he’s ready to hang ’em up and go to as many Mavericks games as he wants.
Projecting Clayton Kershaw’s next Dodgers contract: 2 years, $55 million
And, from that point, one-year deal after one-year deal.
The Dodgers will need to flex their muscles a little bit here; the inevitability of the fit doesn’t mean Kershaw will be willing to settle cheaply in the name of blind loyalty. Jeter didn’t; he signed a three-year, $51 million deal at age 36 with a fourth-year option after initially demanding $23-25 million AAV.
Kershaw likely will be targeting a similar equivalent AAV, which we project the Dodgers to offer in his scenario.
Two years, $27.5 million per season, and bake certain escalators in depending on postseason appearances and durability. If Kershaw reaches the playoffs with the Dodgers yet again, he will no longer be making any Game 1 starts, but he’ll still be integral.
A contract like the one laid out above should be enough to bridge his indecision.