Posted January 15, 2014

Game’s best pitcher is now game’s richest pitcher as Kershaw gets $215M extension

Clayton Kershaw, Hot Stove, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw, winner of two NL Cy Young awards, will make an average of $30.7 million per year over the next seven seasons. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Late last March, just before the 2013 season opened, the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw were reportedly close to completing a contract extension that would have surpassed Justin Verlander’s seven-year, $180 million extension even before the ink on that one had dried as the richest deal ever for a pitcher. Alas, the two sides couldn’t finalize an agreement before Opening Day, but the 25-year-old southpaw has finally cashed in via a seven-year, $215 million deal — setting records for the highest average annual value ($30.7M) of any player and the largest contract ever for a pitcher.

That Kershaw would be the one to set the record makes sense, as he’s got a solid claim on being the best pitcher in baseball. In 2013 he set career bests with 236 innings, a 1.83 ERA and 7.8 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference.com version) while striking out 232 batters and helping the Dodgers reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He has now led the NL in ERA three straight years and strikeouts and WAR for two consecutive seasons. He capped his campaign by winning his second Cy Young award, coming within one first-place vote of doing so unanimously.

Over the past three seasons, Kershaw has the game’s lowest ERA (2.21), highest ERA+ (166) and highest strikeout total (709); only Verlander has thrown more innings (707 2/3 to Kershaw’s 697) or compiled a higher WAR (20.8 to Kershaw’s 20.6). When one considers that the Dodgers’ ace is five years younger than his Tigers’ counterpart while playing in the game’s second-largest media market and under an ownership that became the first this side of the Yankees to breach the $200 million payroll threshold last year, it’s no surprise that he not only surpassed Verlander’s contract but that he did so by a wide margin — $5 million per year.

Verlander didn’t really step into his role as an ace until his age-26 season in 2009. By contrast, Kershaw already ranks among the elite pitchers up to this point in his career. His 146 ERA+ is the best of any Expansion Era pitcher (i.e, since 1961) through his age-25 season (minimum of 600 innings). His 32.2 WAR ranks fifth among that group and his 9.2 strikeouts per nine are 10th. Among contemporary pitchers over the course of his six-year career, his ERA+ ranks first, his strikeout rate third (Tim Lincecum is first at 9.7 per nine, Max Scherzer second at 9.4), and his WAR is third as well (Cliff Lee is first at 37.5, Verlander second at 32.6).

Despite all of that, this seems like silly money to be throwing around for any pitcher, but Kershaw’s age and clean injury history would appear to make him a better bet than most. He has never served a stint on the disabled list during his six-year major league career and has dealt with only a couple of minor injuries. He missed a pair of September 2009 starts due to an AC joint issue in his shoulder and one in September 2012 due to hip impingement. He has thrown 373 2/3 fewer innings than Verlander did at the time of his extension that covers his age 30-36 seasons, and 440 1/3 fewer innings than Felix Hernandez did at the time of his quickly-surpassed seven-year, $175 million extension that covers his age 27-33 seasons.

The Dodger ownership’s willingness to spend money — and in doing so assume significant risk — made Kersahw’s deal an inevitability. The team already has four players with contracts in excess of $100 million in Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp, with all but the latter added to the payroll since the Guggenheim Partners purchased the team from the morally and financially bankrupt Frank McCourt for a record $2 billion in the spring of 2012. Gonzalez’s seven-year, $154 million extension and Crawford’s seven-year, $142 million free agent contract were both signed with the Red Sox; they came to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade in August 2012. Greinke’s six-year, $147 million free agent deal, signed in December 2012, briefly set a standard for pitchers in terms of average annual value, but that $24.5 million mark was quickly surpassed by both Hernandez ($25 million per year) and Verlander ($25.7 million per year).

Driving the Dodgers’ expenditures is a record-setting television deal with Time Warner Cable, one valued at a staggering $8.5 billion over 25 years and running through 2038 — guaranteeing the franchise an average of $340 million per year. Even with the money that they’ll put into revenue sharing, they’ll retain more than $6 billion of that money over the life of the deal.

The year-by-year salary structure of Kershaw’s contract has yet to be reported, but whatever it is, it will certainly top the $11 million he made in 2013, and probably the $20 million he might have made in arbitration this winter. If he does make $20 million, it would push the team’s 2014 payroll commitments to around $227 million for 22 players, with deals for the arbitration-eligible A.J. Ellis and Kenley Jansen still to come. Eleven Dodgers are making more than $10 million per year including Kershaw.

While the structure remains unknown at this writing, what is known is that the deal contains an out clause after five years, allowing Kershaw to enter free agency following the 2018 season — when he’ll be 30 years old — if he so chooses. That’s an extra bit of risk L.A. has assumed, but it’s not unprecedented; Greinke’s deal includes an opt-out after the third season (2015). The Yankees built a similar clause into the seven-year, $161 million deal CC Sabathia signed in December 2008; he opted out after three years but remained with New York, effectively adding one more guaranteed season at $25 million with a $25 million vesting option and a $5 million buyout for the final year of his deal, 2017.

Kershaw is the sixth player in major league history to sign a deal worth at least $200 million, joining Alex Rodriguez (twice), Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano. At just shy of 26 years old (March 19 is his birthday), he’s the youngest player in that group, nearly four years younger than Fielder. While Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that L.A. discussed 10-year, $250 million and $12-year, $300 million deals with Kershaw, the pact he emerged with is very close to the seven-year, $210 million one he almost agreed to last spring.

In all, this is an eye-popping contract, but’s going to a pitcher who has already staked his claim as the best in the game, and one of the best to this point in his career. It’s a deal the Dodgers can obviously afford, and they may not be done. They’re believed to be one of the favorites to land Japanese hurler Masahiro Tanaka, whose posting fee and contract could come in at around $100 million — a drop in the bucket compared to Kershaw.

33 comments
dennis921
dennis921

Has looked rather average in the playoffs.  Must be a great small game pitcher to have gathered all these accolades.

berdosux
berdosux

Wow so many haters out there.  This guy is the best pitcher in baseball and deserves to be paid like the best pitcher in baseball.  That's exactly what happened.

look@thebrightside
look@thebrightside

i like how the author refers to mccourt as morally and financially bankrupt.

what about his prostitute of a wife that thinks in her warped little mind that she somehow deserves half this mans money ? this is a woman who spent her life spending his money and when the relationship ends he loses his baseball team, along with half the life he actually worked for while she shopped and had plastic surgery.

i know this has nothing to do with the story, but i cant read about the dodgers without remembering the details of how the team changed hands in the first place. 

p.s. baseball sucks, this is a game ( refuse to even call it a sport ) where a bunch of fatties sit around for 3 hours and wait for someone to hit a ball near them. easily the most undeserving and overpaid "athletes" in the world. 

Joe R2
Joe R2

Baseball players are the most overpaid athletes.

KMJS_1
KMJS_1

Ridiculous contract for a player having an impact on maybe 35 games a year.  Even for an everyday position player, $30 million a year is insanity. These high contracts are the reason ticket prices keep rising and most people can no longer afford to go to games in person. 

6marK6
6marK6

"Game’s best pitcher is now game’s richest pitcher as Kershaw gets $215M extension"


I am always confused by such headlines. As if I am supposed to be so happy that the so-called best pitcher is making this amount of money. Seriously, how does this benefit me?

RichW
RichW

Meanwhile, here in small market Cincinnati, the newspaper is running a poll if we should trade our best pitcher Homer Bailey or not. The reason is because this is his last year before free agency, and we will lose him as his price will be unaffordable to the team's budget. Other low budget teams face the same dilemma. Tampa Bay has to deal their best pitcher for the same reason. Big budget teams spend whatever they want and gobble up the scraps from the small market teams. That stinks to high heaven.

GoPSULions
GoPSULions

This shows why MLB has fan issues compared to NFL.  W/o a hard salary cap (max and min) and media revenue sharing, you get the teams that spend like crazy, and those that can't.  While there are some teams in the NFL that seem to consistently underperform it is not due to other teams outspending them many times over.  As a result in the NFL most fans can really feel going into the season that their team can have a shot. 

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

The insane asylum is being run by the lunatics...


$215,000,000 for seven years of stress free work. 


$30,714,286 per year (plus additional money from advertisements).


The median income in the US is about $50,000.


Look in the mirror and ask yourself: Is Clayton Kershaw worth 615 times me?


And that's just nominal because he doesn't work 2080 hours per year. 


He "works" about six hours per day - every fifth day - with the vast majority of that work involving sitting down and talking with his team mates about anything under the sun - and watch people play baseball.


He travels, stays in hotels and eats meals (including beer!) that are provided by the team. And gets a free trip to Florida every spring for a month.


I don't know about you, but I can't charge the time that I work out to my company - even if me being physically fit is beneficial to my employer. 


So let's give an honest, objective number to the yearly hours Kershaw will work: 6 X 35 + 240* == 450


Works out to about $68,250 PER HOUR!!!


All thanks to the strength of the player's union.








* 240 - factor in one hour per day "thinking about baseball" during the playing season.

effeweall
effeweall

2 billion for this team and they did not even get the land around the stadium.  Gugenheim bailed out McCourt from jail and Magic made it smell nicer to the public..  8.3 billion for 25 years will seem like a bargain in 5 years.

Frank14
Frank14

i hope for the dodgers (not kershaw) that he breaks his arm tomorrow and they will still owe him the $$$.

MrArlington
MrArlington

If any signing today was a "sure thing" then this is it. Kershaw for LA and Gio for the Nat's are the future of the game for lefties. Good move LA.

Montana410
Montana410

I love sports, but paying someone almost a quarter of a billion dollars for throwing a damn ball. Beyond ridiculous. 

PatrickBatemanVP
PatrickBatemanVP

"This guy isn't old enough to get this kind of deal".


-The Yankees

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

This is ridiculous money.  Sooner or later, the well is going to dry up.  The sponsors -- who ultimately pick up the tab, directly or through advertising costs -- are limited in how far they can jack up prices before people stop buying their stuff.  

And sooner or later, fans will stop buying tickets.  We saw a foretaste of this last weekend, when 3 of 4 NFL teams had trouble selling out tickets for playoff games in the nation's most popular league.

Boogieman1281
Boogieman1281

Best in the game, but $30 mil/year for about 30 games played? Seems steep

howboutthis?
howboutthis?

By far the smartest of the $200M+ deals, but still.... Wow. 


6marK6
6marK6

@RichW That and you are paying all that money to Joey V.

Voiceover310
Voiceover310

@GoPSULions Dodgers haven't been relevant since the late 80's and they have been spending boat loads of cash every season. Kershaw is a good pitcher, but this doesn't take them any closer to a World Series. Dodgers ALWAYS find a way to blow it.

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

@UnishowponyWherebeef yup, guy just walked onto the field, threw a ball around a couple times and automatically made it to the big leagues.

you're an idiot.

whiteraven81
whiteraven81

@UnishowponyWherebeefthat is some crazy math u got there...

this kid trained his whole life... never ate the wrong food... trains everyday to get better...

i agree i don't think a pitcher should be getting that money... but only works 6 hours every 5 days... cmon man... i bet even in the off season he doesn't take a day off....

DODGERFAIL2013
DODGERFAIL2013

@Montana410 yup.  clayton kershaw doesn't draw viewers on TV, doesn't get people to come to baseball games, help his team win games and get to the playoffs, etc.


yup, he doesn't help the dodgers make money in return.


die in a fire