The first big domino of the offseason is about to drop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it involves the decision by possibly the best regular season pitcher of the last half-century.
It’s difficult enough for a team to have to regroup after coming so close to a championship without actually winning one. It’s even more of an excruciating task when the team has come so close to a title for consecutive seasons without winning, but the Dodgers are also facing the very real possibility that an era is coming to an end.
Clayton Kershaw is about to make a decision regarding whether to opt out of the final two seasons of his contract with the Dodgers.
The final two years would pay him $65 million. He signed the contract after the 2013 season, at a time when it was the richest deal in league history based on the average annual value of $30.7 million.
It’d be a lot of money for a 30-year-old pitcher with back issues to walk away from, but it would presumably be a chance to try to cash in one final time before retiring.
The logic would be that Kershaw would opt out to seek a longer-term deal that would probably net him a lower average annual value than he has on his current deal, sacrificing annual value for long-term security.
If that’s his goal, then really all it would take is for a team to surpass the $65 million guarantee he’d be walking away from and spreading that figure out over a longer contract.
The actual figure that he’d attract on the open market is unknown, but all it takes is one over-eager general manager to throw an absurd amount of money at him.
Kershaw can still be a phenomenal asset for a club, but it’s also true that he has already reached his peak performance, and a team shouldn’t expect quite the same type of stats over the duration of his next contract.
Almost assuredly, Kershaw is going to attract more than $65 million from some other club out there if he does choose to opt out.
If he has his heart set on a specific length, like maybe five years, a team has to weigh the risks of whether Kershaw would still be worth the deal into his mid-30s.
Kershaw has only made 28 starts once in the past five seasons, with the most recent being back in 2015. In the three seasons since 2015, he hasn’t pitched more than 175 innings in any year.
All the signs are there that a long-term investment on Kershaw for a huge sum of money brings with it a lot of risks.
Kershaw also had his highest ERA and WHIP since 2010. He didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify, but his 2.73 ERA would have ranked seventh in the Majors and his 1.04 WHIP would have ranked eighth.
It’s a testament to what a phenomenal decade Kershaw has had that a “down year” for him still places him amongst the elite pitchers in the game.
From the Dodgers perspective, Kershaw will hopefully opt-in for those two remaining seasons on his deal so they aren’t forced to make any difficult decisions.
He’s still a great pitcher right now, but with his recent history of injuries and the natural aging process players go through, it’s unclear if he’s going to be worth the type of money he can command at this moment four or five years into the future.
It’s important for a team to not be too sentimental, and make smart financial decisions that don’t end up setting the franchise back. There’s going to be a lot of hard calls to make if Kershaw does, in fact, opt out.