First-half shocker: Clayton Kershaw is half a year closer to free agency
It's hard to believe baseball's biggest spender and baseball's best pitcher can't come to an agreement.
The most surprising thing in baseball halfway through this season isn’t the emergence of the Pirates or the disappointment of the Angels, Brewers, Blue Jays or Nationals. Or even the performances of Bartolo Colon, Marlon Byrd or Josh Hamilton.
The Dodgers are the richest team on the planet, or at least they usually behave that way. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball.
It seems like a match made in Tommy Lasorda's blue heaven.
But as of today, there is only a season plus two and a half months to go in their relationship, and if they don’t reach a multi-year deal in coming months, he’ll be in line to become a $20-million-plus man in arbitration next year and a free agent after the year.
"All I know," Kershaw said here at the All-Star Game, "is I have one more year. Hopefully, we’ll make this year count. And we’ll worry about next year next year."
It's hard to believe there doesn't seem to be more urgency to get something done.
Justin Verlander said with a few days to go in spring that he needed a deal before the start of the season, and lo and behold, one was done, within days.
Kershaw doesn’t say much about it. But he shouldn’t have to.
The Dodgers took on the existing contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, no problem. They locked up Matt Kemp for $160 million over eight years, then kept Andre Ethier for $75 million over five years, no sweat.
There have been occasional reports of progress in the Kershaw talks, though not so much lately. And there’s nothing to suggest anything’s getting close now, certainly not from Kershaw’s spare, rare quote.
For now, it’s a puzzle layered with a lot of silence.
Kershaw’s agent, Casey Close, who last winter worked out the $147 million free-agent deal with Zack Greinke and the Dodgers, declined to add anything to what Kershaw said.
The Dodgers are remaining equally mum on the subject.
So the whole situation remains an unexplained silent shocker of immense proportions.
Kershaw was asked if he’s as surprised as the rest of us. And he responded, "I can’t really answer that ... I can’t do it."
The numbers suggest there should be room -- plenty of room -- for a deal to be done.
The Dodgers’ new ownership group spent $2.15 billion to buy the team and has proceeded to raise the payroll by more than double, from $90 million to $220 million, stacking the roster with big stars and bigger names. But not one of those big names compares to Kershaw, who is in position for a third consecutive top-two finish in the Cy Young Award with his league-leading 1.98 ERA and 0.91 WHIP to go with an 8-6 record.
The overall Kershaw record is spectacular. Beyond being the best pitcher in the game, he's the youngest Roberto Clemente winner ever. So there’s no reason the Dodgers shouldn't be all in.
While some on other teams are questioning where the money’s coming from, and there's still some disagreement over how much they'll get to keep from their reported $7 billion TV deal, their recent pickup of Ricky Nolasco is merely the latest example of them spending to win.
But so far, there's no deal in sight for Kershaw.
Could it be possible that Kershaw, known to be about the most competitive man in baseball, has a steep asking price? Could it be that he doesn’t mind the idea of free agency?
Could it be that the deep-pocketed Dodgers are lowballing him after not lowballing anyone else?
That absolute baseline for a deal would have to be the $180 million committed to Justin Verlander. Though some technically count CC Sabathia's $161 million deal as the record, there isn’t anyone familiar with the talks who expects anything that isn’t above $180 million, even perhaps significantly above.
Verlander is terrific. But Kershaw is pitching better than him, Kershaw is a half-year closer to free agency and he's five years younger. That trio of terrific reasons should put the figure over $200 million, and maybe even closer to $225 million.
The new money in the Verlander deal ($140 million for five years) is for $28 million a year. So if Kershaw sought an eight-year deal at $28 million for $224 million total, that might sound high, but it wouldn't be shocking.
What is shocking is the sides haven't come together yet.
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