There is no finality in Clayton Kershaw’s future. There is uncertainty, which is why he took the mound at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday with thoughts beyond that night’s game.
Not too many thoughts, for Kershaw is an extraordinarily focused performer. The Colorado Rockies were in town, and the winner of that night’s game would leave the ballpark atop the National League West.
But there was that extra glance, that extra breath, that extra thought. Kershaw pitched his first home game for the Dodgers 10 years ago. He might have pitched his 164th and last regular-season home game for the Dodgers on Tuesday.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind,” Kershaw said.
David Price, like Kershaw, can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Price said this month he would not opt out. Kershaw hasn’t said.
“No one’s ever asked me,” Kershaw said Friday.
We’ll ask. Have you decided whether to opt out?
“No,” he said.
In spring training, Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter said he hoped to make Kershaw a Dodger for life. Is that still the game plan?
“Sure,” Walter said Friday.
Kershaw almost certainly has clinched a spot in the Hall of Fame, with a plaque on which he would be sporting a Dodgers cap.
His decade of dominance speaks for itself: the only National League pitcher to win the league’s most valuable player award in the last half-century, three Cy Young awards, seven consecutive top-five Cy Young finishes, the lowest career earned-run average of any pitcher with at least 1,500 innings in the live-ball era. That dates to 1920.
Opt out? That would have been a foregone conclusion a decade ago, when paying for past performance was in vogue.
But, with the advent of analytics, a team might well project Kershaw’s value based on these numbers: 30 years old, a 3-mph drop in his fastball velocity, two trips to the disabled list this year, three consecutive years in which a back injury has put him on the disabled list.
If Kershaw does not opt out, the Dodgers owe him an additional two years and $65 million. Could he double that in free agency?
Of the 12 pitchers to sign contracts of at least $130 million, only one had thrown 2,000 innings when he signed: Zack Greinke, at 2,153, including the postseason.
Kershaw is at 2,207, with the last week of September and perhaps all of October to go.
The Los Angeles Times spoke with seven baseball insiders, on the agent side and on the team side, none working for Kershaw or the Dodgers, to get a sense of what might happen. The uneasy consensus: Kershaw stays with the Dodgers, but he has dropped so few clues that no one really knows.
Kershaw has reinvented himself as a pitcher, with less fastball and more slider, and without any significant decline in results. That is incredibly impressive, all the more so when he did not need a year or two for his new self to become effective.
A team could count on Kershaw for 150 innings per season, which counts as perfectly satisfactory in this era. And, according to one of the insiders, Kershaw is so driven that he might yet find a way to alter his mechanics and recover some velocity.
That might not be enough. Of the seven insiders, none thought Kershaw could match the seven years of his current contract, and only one thought Kershaw might get even five years.
One of the insiders wondered how many teams would be willing to offer $30 million per year to a starting pitcher. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, sure, but would Kershaw want to play in either city? The San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals? Maybe, but both of those teams are in flux. The Chicago Cubs?
“Clayton doesn’t strike me as the type of guy that wants to play wherever,” an insider said.
There could be a wild card as high bidder, like when the Arizona Diamondbacks struck for Greinke, or the Seattle Mariners for Robinson Cano.
One insider suggested the Angels, where they could risk a declining third or fourth year of Kershaw if the first two years were so good that they propelled the team toward the playoffs and persuaded Mike Trout to forgo free agency.
The most logical suitor remains Kershaw’s hometown team, the Texas Rangers, with big oil money in ownership and a new ballpark to sell for 2020.
“The concept of layering in a quality free-agent addition, that’s appealing,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
With the Dodgers, Kershaw has a good chance to get to the playoffs every year, and a decent chance to get to the World Series.
“I’ve been very fortunate here, for sure,” he said. “To win five in a row, and seven times in the 10 years I’ve been here. That doesn’t happen everywhere, that’s for sure.”
The Rangers, after a run of five postseason appearances in seven years, finished 23 games out of first place last year, and they will finish in last place in the American League West this season. They fired manager Jeff Banister on Friday, they gave 24 starts to the ancient Bartolo Colon this season, and they are embarking on a rebuild.
Winning there might not happen soon enough for Kershaw.
“That’s true,” he said. “That’s very true.”
Kershaw has started 314 games for the Dodgers, the exact number Sandy Koufax did. What might be more important to Kershaw, his legacy with the Dodgers or the comfort of family back home?
“Both,” he said.
On a pure analytics play, the Dodgers could justify letting Kershaw walk away if he opts out of his contract. But, on a pure analytics play, the Dodgers would not have awarded closer Kenley Jansen the fifth year of his contract and would have lost him to the Washington Nationals.
The Dodgers’ ownership can extend Kershaw for two years, committing him to four more years in Los Angeles, perhaps with an opt-out clause after 2020 so Kershaw can test the market if he has two healthy years.
An additional $65 million is not cheap, but it is cheaper than signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. After the Dodgers spent $2 million in free agency last offseason (hello, Tom Koehler) and dodged the luxury tax this summer, some fan-friendly spending would be welcome.
For all the storied history of the franchise, it has been 20 years since the Hall of Fame inducted a Dodger: Don Sutton, whose plaque listed five teams.
It has been 34 years since Cooperstown welcomed a player who had spent his entire career with the Dodgers. It might be 10, or more, until Kershaw is inducted. It would be nice if his plaque were not littered with any team name besides “LOS ANGELES, N.L.”
The fact that there isn’t a measurement actually adds to the mystique. It was in a spring training game when Tyler O’Neill hit a Clayton Kershaw fastball over the fence, over the bullpen, over the umbrellas on the picnic tables and into the ether of estimation. I’m thinking the Canadian hit it at least a kilometer.
O’Neill is a current Cardinals outfielder and could face Kershaw tonight, when the lefty returns to Busch Stadium to face St. Louis. But O’Neill’s homer in the spring of 2017 was an emphatic way for O’Neill to introduce himself to the casual baseball fan, hitting a homer that made Twitter atwitter.
It was St. Patrick’s Day. Kershaw was Kershawing. Los Angeles led 2-0 in the fourth when the three-time Cy Young winner walked a guy. That brought up the Mariners’ 21-year-old prospect O’Neill, who played the previous year at Class-AA.
First pitch, fastball in on the righty, who “launch angle’d” the thing with his upper-cut swing.
“It’s always good to be humbled,” Kershaw told the Los Angeles Times. “So this was a good one for me tonight.”
When I asked O’Neill about it earlier this year, he himself was humble and didn’t want to talk too much on-the-record about it. Said he “barreled it well.”
O’Neill came to the Cards organization later that 2017 season, when Seattle traded him for pitcher Marco Gonzales. Incidentally, in 26 starts this season, Marco is 12-9 with a 4.24 ERA.
O’Neill, who lifts weights sometimes, has hit eight homers in 116 at-bats for the Birds this season. Most recently, O’Neill annihilated a 3-0 pitch for a three-run homer Tuesday. Statcast tracked the ball at 457 feet, the farthest a Card had hit a ball at Busch since Statcast began in 2015. The exit velocity was 113.1 miles per hour — the fourth-highest by a Cardinals since 2015, per MLB.com.
For the season, O’Neill’s slash line is .250/.288/.491. He has struck out 52 times, while walking five times.
Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press
Clayton Kershaw is pitching like Clayton Kershaw.
That’s good news for the Los Angeles Dodgers and fantastic news for baseball.
We’re talking about the greatest pitcher of his generation. He’s worth rooting for—Dodgers fan or not.
In his most recent start, which came September 7 against the Colorado Rockies, Kershaw allowed two earned runs with seven strikeouts over six innings at Coors Field. It wasn’t the best outing of his career—a high bar to clear—but it was yet another strong effort from the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP.
The Dodgers have won each of Kershaw’s last four turns on the hill. He’s lasted six innings or more in every start since July 3. He posted a 1.95 ERA in July and a 2.06 mark in August.
Before his recent run of familiar dominance, Kershaw spent time on the disabled list with biceps and back issues. His status as the best pitcher on the planet was suddenly in doubt.
Lately, his trusted left arm has pushed those doubts to the back burner. Concurrently, the possibility of a Kershaw opt-out is bordering on a certainty.
Here’s the deal: Kershaw is inked through the 2018 campaign. This winter, he can opt in for two more seasons with Los Angeles at a total of $70-plus million, per Cot’s Contracts, or he can dip his toes into the free-agent waters.
If Kershaw’s health problems had lingered or his results had trended southward, he might have chosen the safe route. He’s back on the bump, however, and chucking it like his old self. Free agency is the way to go.
Yes, his fastball velocity has dipped from a career average of 93.7 mph to 91.4 mph, per FanGraphs. And he turned 30 in March, meaning any long-term contract will carry him into his mid-30s and beyond. That’s when many pitchers’ skills begin to erode.
The counterpoint? He’s Clayton Kershaw.
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press
Since 2011, Kershaw leads all pitchers with 50.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Only Max Scherzer (42.9) and Chris Sale (40.9) have surpassed 40 WAR over that span.
If Kershaw’s brilliant career ended today, you could make a credible Hall of Fame case.
Thankfully, his career isn’t over. And you can bet suitors will circle with their wallets wide open if he tests the market this winter.
Kershaw refused to tip his hand in April, and his tune hasn’t changed.
“There will be a time to think about all that stuff, but that will be after the season,” he said of his looming opt-out, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve been to everywhere now. I know what it’s like. I don’t need to worry about that now. I can sift through all that stuff, if I have to, in the offseason.”
Let’s assume he sifts through the stuff and becomes a free agent. He’s a Texas native who might replace fellow free-agent southpaw Dallas Keuchel atop the Houston Astros rotation or accelerate the Texas Rangers‘ rebuild.
The New York Yankees will be in the market for starting pitching. So will the Chicago Cubs. Don’t count out the Boston Red Sox and, well, just about every other franchise with two nickels to rub together.
Gregory Bull/Associated Press
In the end, the Dodgers make the most sense. Kershaw has never worn another big league uniform. He’s the face of the franchise. From and on-field and PR standpoint, Los Angeles should bring him back.
That may mean a new deal in excess of $200 million—something in line with the seven-year, $217 million pact the Red Sox handed David Price in December 2015 before his age-30 season.
Price has battled injuries and inconsistency in the intervening years. Kershaw could do the same. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney spelled out the risk/reward proposition:
“There have been plenty of instances in which a team extended itself to retain an aging star, with Tom Brady perhaps being the best current example. There also have been teams that said no to Hall of Fame-caliber players—the Packers to Brett Favre, the Cardinals to Albert Pujols.
“In a perfect world in which money is not a factor and everybody lives happily ever after, the star stays, retires in harmony with his employers and comes back every year to wave to the crowds who once cheered his or her feats. But in this complicated world, that doesn’t always happen.”
On that scale, Kershaw would be worth the gamble.
The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988. They acquired Manny Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, but if the season ended Wednesday, they’d miss the playoffs. If they fall short of a Commissioner’s Trophy once again, can they also afford to let their ace go?
Kershaw is pitching like Kershaw.
That’s great news all around, but it’s especially good for him…and his bank account.
All statistics and contract information current entering play Wednesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In an effort to spread awareness of the dangers of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancement drugs to teenagers across North America, the Taylor Hooton Foundation has partnered with MLB for another season.
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The foundation was formed in 2004 by friends and family of Taylor Hooton, a 17-year-old high school athlete from Texas who passed away after using anabolic steroids.
All 30 Major League teams have a representative on the Taylor Hooton Foundation Advisory Board. Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was recently named to the group and hopes to encourage young baseball players everywhere that talent — not performance enhancing drugs — is the way to reach their goals, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“The biggest thing is to try and teach kids growing up that the proper way to make your dreams come true and get to the big leagues is not by taking a shortcut,” said Kershaw. “It’s with hard work. Obviously, a lot of God-given talent and ability. But at the end of the day, how much you put in is how much you get out. It feels good knowing that when you make it, it’s because of the abilities you’ve been given and the hard work.”
Dozens of MLB players are expected to participate in the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s public-service campaign, “It’s All Me,” including members of the Advisory Board like Kershaw.
Each of those taking part will continue educating North America’s young people and baseball players about the side effects of anabolic steroids, as well as share advice on how to find success without using them.
Kershaw of course is regularly active in providing for those in need, not only in Los Angeles and his hometown of Dallas, but worldwide as well. He and Ellen Kershaw just hosted the sixth annual Kershaw’s Challenge Ping Pong 4 Purpose event at Dodger Stadium.
EditorsNote: tweaks headline
Clayton Kershaw pitched seven strong innings to earn the 150th win of his career as the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the host Seattle Mariners 12-1 Sunday afternoon.
Enrique Hernandez and Justin Turner hit home runs for the resurgent Dodgers, who took two of three games in the interleague series.
Kershaw (6-5), the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner who has struggled with injuries this season, allowed one run on four hits. He walked one and struck out seven.
The Dodgers gave Kershaw a five-run cushion before he even took the mound as they sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning against Mariners left-hander Roenis Elias (2-1), who was making his second start of the season.
Brian Dozier led off the game with a single, Turner walked and Manny Machado lined a single to center to load the bases with no outs. Matt Kemp hit into a forceout, but Cody Bellinger grounded a two-run single to right field to open the scoring. Hernandez followed with a line-drive single to left, bringing Kemp home. After another forceout, Yasiel Puig hit a soft liner to right, with two runs scoring to make it 5-0.
Elias, recalled before the game after a stint on the 10-day disabled list with a strained left triceps, lasted three innings. He gave up five runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out two.
The Mariners scored their lone run with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, as Kyle Seager hit a ground-rule double to right field and scored on Ryon Healy’s single.
Hernandez homered, his 18th of the season, to left-center field with two outs in the sixth off reliever Chasen Bradford, making the score 8-1.
Turner hit a three-run homer, his ninth, in the ninth off Mariners infielder Andrew Romine, who was making his second mop-up appearance of the series.
Mariners catcher Chris Herrmann left the game in the third inning with a bruised right knee after taking a foul ball from Puig off his leg. Herrmann was replaced by Mike Zunino, who was supposed to have the day off.
—Field Level Media