Overshadowing baseball’s passage of a new video review system and the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes was Clayton Kershaw’s new mega-deal, which extends his time wearing Dodger blue until at least 2018. The 7-year contract will pay the superstar left-hander a whopping 215 million. The agreement also gives Kershaw the ability to opt-out after the fifth year. The deal is very friendly to the two-time National League Cy Young award winner. Assuming good health and continued success, Kershaw could use the opt-out clause as leverage for a restructure with the Dodgers or to test the open market. This would make it likely that this will not be the only big time payday of his career regardless of the clause.
The landmark deal is the richest ever for a pitcher and gives Kershaw the highest annual earnings of any player in the league. While long-term, lucrative contracts for pitchers have waned in popularity in recent years due to their volatility and lack of return on investment, many in the industry see this as a win not only for team Clayton but also for the Dodgers. Assuming their staff ace avoids the opt-out clause and pitches through the end of the deal in 2020 he will still be just 32 years of age. Although it is never wise to speculate on how long a pitcher can perform at an elite level, it is more likely that Kershaw can sustain recent success through the end of the deal given that he has less mileage on his arm than say a Justin Verlander, who Detroit signed to a 7-year deal which will pay him 25 million per year through his age 36 season. This factor alone likely makes this deal a good one for both parties.
Clayton Kershaw has certainly earned his new commitment from the Dodgers. He’s won 2 of the last 3 NL Cy Young titles and has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in the live-ball era at 2.60. Furthermore, he has eclipsed 200 innings and strikeouts four-straight seasons with an ERA never eclipsing 2.91 and dipping as low as 1.83. Those ERA numbers are almost completely legitimate as well, with FIP figures to match. With Kershaw theoretically just entering his “prime” at age 26, we can expect more of the same. While a bit premature, the Sandy Koufax comparisons probably will and should continue.
From a fantasy perspective Koufax, I mean Kershaw, remains the best option in the fake game ahead of friends Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez. The lefty will likely be a borderline first-round selection in the vast majority of fantasy leagues this spring. Kershaw’s ERA is unlikely to finish under 2 again as his strand rate should trend down a bit and his BABIP up slightly. However, I expect Kershaw to finish somewhere in between the underwhelming Steamer and ridiculous Oliver projections that Fangraphs notes.
- Steamer 2014 projection: 30 GS, 192 IP, 197 K,14-9, 3.08 ERA, 1.12 WHIP,
- Oliver 2014 projection: 33 GS, 233 IP, 237 K, 21-5, 2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP
- My 2014 projection: 32 GS, 227 IP, 230 K, 18-7, 2.46 ERA, 0.99 WHIP