COMMENTARY | When Felix Hernandez agreed to a new 7-year, $175 million contract extension on Feb. 12, he might have been only the second-most excited person in baseball. The most excited? That would be Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who isn't an overly demonstrative person.
In all likelihood, Hernandez's deal will be used as a baseline when it comes time to extend Kershaw -- and that time is coming quickly.
Kershaw, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the 2014 season, is entering the final year of a two-year, $19.5 million deal that he signed last winter with the Dodgers. He is still arbitration eligible for one more season, but it's long past due for the two sides to work out a long-term deal.
Kershaw is in line for a historic payday.
Luckily, the sides have mutual interest in completing such a deal, though it might not happen until next winter.
Kershaw is the best left-handed starter in baseball and one of the top two or three pitchers in the game. He already has a Cy Young Award in his trophy case (which could easily be two if it was not for R.A. Dickey's amazing 2012 season), a Gold Glove (for whatever that's worth), two ERA titles (2011 & 2012) and two All-Star appearances. The scary part is, Kershaw is entering his age-25 season.
For the Dodgers and Kershaw, Hernandez's mega deal should be the starting point in negotiations. If things go as expected, Kershaw should be baseball's first $200 million pitcher.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has a relatively easy task ahead of him -- to make Kershaw the game's richest pitcher. It's easier said than done, but with the seemingly unlimited financial backing of the Guggenheim Group, it shouldn't be too difficult to complete.
Here's the blueprint:
- Acquire Brinks truck
- Back up said Brinks truck to Kershaw
- Let him take whatever he wants
Seriously, an eight-year, $218 million contract should get it done.
It's likely this contract extension won't get consummated until next winter, which is fine. Dodger fans and brass would probably like it to be done sooner but as long as it gets done, that's the only thing that matters.
Franchise pitchers don't reach unrestricted free agency often. While first-year Dodgers starter Zack Greinke is an amazing pitcher, he isn't in the same class as Kershaw, Hernandez or Justin Verlander -- arguably the best trio of starting pitchers in the game.
Cole Hamels was all set to be courted by the Dodgers this winter before signing a massive six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Phillies on July 25. Matt Cain was extended to the tune of six years, $127.5 million prior to the start of the 2012 season by the San Francisco Giants. While both are excellent pitchers -- especially Hamels -- they're not on Kershaw's level.
The last true ace to hit the open market was CC Sabathia, who landed a 7-year, $161 million deal from the New York Yankees. Sabathia opted out of the deal after the 2011 season and re-signed for five years and $122 million, making his total deal with the Yankees $168 million over seven years. If Kershaw was to ever hit the open market, he would certainly set some records. Hopefully, that doesn't happen.
Kershaw is second only to Verlander in FanGraphs' wins above replacement (13.9 to 12.2) in the last two seasons, and he's 0.8 WAR ahead of Hernandez in the same time period. Kershaw also leads baseball in the following categories over the last two seasons: ERA (2.40), fielding independent percentage (FIP, 2.68) strikeout percentage (26.3), and hits allowed per nine innings (6.7). Whatever the Dodgers end up giving Kershaw, it'll be worth it.
Despite a nagging hip injury that could have been a result of plantar fasciitis, he has been a model of health. While there is always a risk of injury when it comes to pitchers, Kershaw's picture-perfect mechanics and delivery lowers that risk considerably.
The other thing working in Kershaw's favor is his age. He turns 25 in little more than a month. He isn't like a lot of stud pitchers who could hit the open market in their late-20s, thus already playing through a few of their prime years. If Kershaw follows suit, his best years are ahead of him -- a frightening thought for National League hitters.
Since the Dodgers' new ownership group took over, it has followed through on virtually every promise it has made. It hasn't promised to extend the organization's best pitcher since Sandy Koufax, but it would behoove the group to lock up the ace.
And it will. Quite soon.
Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Dodger blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.