At $32.8 million a year, the Dodgers ace is officially the highest-paid player in baseball. But could he also be a bargain?
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The initial reaction to yesterday's announcement that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw had agreed to a seven year, $215 million contract extension was mostly, HOLY SHIT! After all, how can any player, let alone a pitcher who only takes the field once every five days, be worth that much scratch? And do the Dodgers have a huge, Scrooge McDuck-style silo full of money? Finally, how can we become members of Kershaw's entourage? (Seeing as Kershaw's childhood buddy Matthew Stafford signed a 3-year, $53 million extension with the Lions last summer, that's a pretty sweet entourage.)
But once the dust settled and experts started crunching the numbers, the real question was whether the Dodgers were actually getting a bargain. Last month, an agent told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci that Kershaw was worth $35 million a year. And even before yesterday's deal was announced, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs made the argument that Kershaw was worth roughly $243 million over seven years - we're no good at math, but even we can tell that saving $28 million is a good deal for the Dodgers. Consider: Kershaw, at 25-years-old, is pretty unquestionably the best pitcher in baseball, and one of the best ever at this stage in his career. He has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the live-ball era with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched. He's won two of the last three NL Cy Young Awards, and in 2012 he finished second. He's won the last three ERA titles, led the league the last three years in WHIP and hits-per-9-innings. He's just crazy good, and he'll only be 32 when the contract runs out, so the Dodgers have him locked up through his prime years. Also, he's only getting better.
That's the key here. Over the last few years, too many of baseball's bank-busting deals have gone to players on the downside of their careers, or will be over the course of their contracts. Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal is the most obvious (even more so with recent developments) but there are others: Prince Fielder, Mark Texeira, Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Josh Hamilton... Look at the 10-year, $240 million deal the Angels gave Albert Pujols. Pujols was undoubtedly worth that much for the first ten years of his career, but he's already slipping, and at 34 years old, he's only two years into the deal.
So as preposterous as $32.8 million a year looks to us mere mortals, Kershaw is one of the very few baseball players worth that kind of money. And just wait until Mike Trout comes up for free agency. Then do what you can to get into his entourage.