Potential Record-Setting Contract Looms For Clayton Kershaw And Los Angeles Dodgers

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers took on nearly a quarter billion dollars worth of guaranteed salary in the blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the west coast from the Boston Red Sox.

Then, in the off-season, after the team paid Brandon League $22 million over the next three years, the team went ahead and gave Zack Greinke the most expensive contract ever given to a right-handed pitcher, a six-year deal with $147 million.

Yet, all of them will pale when it comes time for the team to extend it’s best pitcher, 24-year old Clayton Kershaw.

Yes, Kershaw won’t turn 25 until April this year, despite having been one of baseball’s elite over the last four seasons. The lefty will have one more arbitration coming up before hitting free agency, which means he’ll get there at 26, before both C.C. Sabathia and Barry Zito got their respective deals.

The Dodgers, $7 billion TV deal and all, are going to have to start preparing to part with a very large chunk of that money to Kershaw pretty soon, because there’s simply not going to be any avoiding paying the kid. Barring a serious injury in the 2013 (which will seriously dampen the Dodger’s chances of competing), Kershaw is on pace to earn the largest contract ever given to a starting pitcher. Adding a fifth sub-3.00 ERA in 2013 to the previous four will establish Kershaw as one of the most dominant pitchers of the 2010′s, and gives him better numbers than both Sabathia and Zito at the same stage at which they signed their deals.

When that time comes, the numbers that will be thrown around are going to put some pause in, even a revenue-rich franchise like the Dodgers.

They’ll need to pay whatever it is, of course. The Dodgers have little to no reason to let Kershaw go to free agency as long as they’ve committed to a every-dollar-if-necessary approach to build a winning team, and it would be almost irresponsible to even consider trading him. No, the Dodgers will need to extend him because they need Kershaw as much as he needs the team, which might be the only MLB franchise capable of giving him the kind of payday he will command.

And to think, when that happens, Kershaw will just be headed into him prime as opposed to being in the middle of it. How many years will it take? How many dollars? Sabathia’s record $161 million is almost certainly going to be smashed. Will it top $180 million? More? $200 million seems unfathomable for a pitcher, but if anyone is going to get that, it’d be Kershaw, right?

That’s something that the team will have to think about as the overhauled team embark on their quest for a World Series in 2013. Winning at any price is the franchise’s approach under the Magic Johnson-led ownership group, yes, but that price is going to get a whole lot higher in the next year or two.

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