Wednesday night the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the Rockies (LAD 5, COL 2) thanks to Yasiel Puig's latest heroics. The sweep gives Los Angeles a season-high 2 1/2-game lead in the NL West with nine games to play.
While the team's focus is on winning the division and then making a deep postseason run, the Dodgers know a very important offseason is on the horizon. Clayton Kershaw, the team's ace and franchise player, can opt out of the final two years and $70 million remaining on his contract after the season.
Earlier this week Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman appeared on the Yahoo! Sports MLB Podcast and discussed Kershaw's looming opt-out. Here's what Friedman had to say:
"The relationship, the communication is really strong. (Kershaw) talked about this in spring training: The conversations that will be had will be private. His mindset and focus is on going out and helping us win a World Series. Obviously, we have a good relationship with (Kershaw's agent) Casey Close as well. I think it's something that from both sides' perspective, we hope-slash-expect to work together for a long time and win a lot of championships together."
So far this season the 30-year-old Kershaw has a 2.45 ERA (158 ERA+) with 145 strikeouts in 24 starts and 150 1/3 innings. As good as that is -- and it is obviously very good -- this qualifies as Kershaw's worst season in several years. His ERA hasn't been this high and his ERA+ has been this low since 2012, and his 5.18 K/BB is his lowest since 2013.
Also, Kershaw spent time on the disabled list with back trouble earlier this year. It's the third straight season he's missed time with back problems, and, generally speaking, back issues usually don't just go away. They're something that has be managed going forward. Randy Johnson and David Wells, two fellow southpaws, had to manage back problems throughout their careers.
Kershaw will turn 31 in March and, given his career to date, it would not be unreasonable for him to expect a contract in line with Max Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million deal and David Price's seven-year, $217 million deal. Kershaw's former teammate Zack Greinke signed a six-year deal worth $206.5 million at age 32. Those are Kershaw's contract benchmarks.
Greinke's contract includes the highest average annual value in baseball history at $34.42 million -- Price and Miguel Cabrera are distant seconds at $31 million -- and I imagine Kershaw's camp will look to beat that number. Are the Dodgers willing to trade a sky high average annual value in exchange for a shorter term? They can certainly afford a big short-term salary.
Tacking four years at $37 million per season onto the two years remaining on Kershaw's contract gives him a six-year deal at $218 million. That beats Price's record for largest overall pitcher contract and Greinke's record for largest average annual value in baseball history. It also allows the Dodgers to avoid paying big for Kershaw's age 37-plus seasons.
Keep in mind Kershaw does not necessarily have to exercise the opt-out. He and his agent can leverage it into an extension, allowing the Dodgers to avoid a free agent bidding war. The Yankees will have money to spend after resetting their luxury tax rate this year. You can't rule out the Cubs, Red Sox, or Nationals doing something bold. What about his hometown Rangers? Kershaw will have plenty of suitors should he hit the open market, even with the back trouble.
For now, Kershaw and the Dodgers are focused on winning their sixth straight division title and winning that elusive World Series ring. The opt-out is looming though, and it is something Kershaw and his agent will use to land a big payday, either through an extension with the Dodgers or through a free agent contract with another team. Someone's going to pay up.