The number is staggering. 215 million. That’s how many dollars the Dodgers will be paying Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s best pitcher, for the next 7 years, provided of course that Kershaw does not exercise his out clause after five years. For those of you counting at home, it works out to just under 31 million a year, or roughly 10 million a year more than the Houston Astros’ entire player payroll in 2013.
And you know what, the Dodgers got a bargain. Let’s make some assumptions here, never a great idea, but for the purposes of argument, you have to take some liberties. Assumption one, Kershaw does not suffer an injury that requires Tommy John surgery, or something similar that costs him an entire year. Assumption two, Kershaw does not suffer a sudden and precipitous decline in performance along the lines of, say, Dontrelle Willis. That’s it. Just those two. I’m fine making them because you can bet the Dodgers’ front office made them when they offered the contract.
So, why did the Dodgers essentially get a steal here? Let’s take a look at what baseball’s other top paid pitchers are making. Cliff Lee? 25 million per. CC Sabathia? 23 million. Hell, Tim Freaking Lincecum makes more than 22 million per, and he’s been hardly average (save for his brilliant no hitter) the last two seasons. Other top paid guys include Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and teammate Zack Greinke. Now, you can argue that most of these guys are true number ones, and despite baseball salaries being on the bloated side, are paid proportionately what they should be. There’s also one other important thing they have in common. They’re all at least 29 years old. Lee is 35. Sabathia 33. Seven years from now, in the final year of his contract, Kershaw will be 32. Again, assuming no horrid injuries and that Don Mattingly doesn’t leave him in for 16 innings in a meaningless September game, there’s no reason to think Kershaw won’t be still able to perform at peak level at age 32.
Here is some more food for thought. During the course of Kershaw’s contract, here are some of the other stud pitchers who will become eligible for free agency for the first time: Stephen Strasburg and fellow Nat, Jordan Zimmermann, Madison Bumgarner, Mat Latos, and Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez. What do you think those bad boys are going to command a few years down the line? 35 million per? 40 million? I guess it all depends on their performance. But you can say this, apart from Hernandez, upon whom the jury is still out on just how awesome he can be, none of those guys are on Kershaw’s level. Even the older guys, what do you think Adam Wainwright would command right now if he were a free agent? Well, he’s 32 now, so he should still have juice in the tank. He’s coming off a marvelous season, and let’s be frank, is simply brilliant. Wouldn’t he get more than Cliff Lee’s 25 million annually? What about a similar pitcher who hits the market in, say, 2017 after a brilliant year. 20 wins, and a sub 3.00 ERA. If baseball’s average annual salary continues to increase annually at a consistent rate, that pitcher’s annual salary will blow Kershaw’s out of the water. And in 2017, Kershaw will still only be 28 and presumably an ace.
Oh, one more thing for perspective. The injured Johan Santana was due to make 25 million in 2014, a figure the Mets paid 5.5 million to not have on their books.
Still not convinced? Go to your fridge, pop open a beer, and read this again.