Baseball's first $300 Million Man might as well be Kershaw

Harry How

Ken Rosenthal, last summer:

Clayton Kershaw, $200 million man?

The idea nearly became reality earlier this season, when Kershaw was close to signing a record-setting, seven-year extension in the $210 million range, according to major league sources.

The Dodgers backed off, though, and the two sides have not negotiated in months, sources said. Talks are unlikely to resume until the offseason, and by then Kershaw’s price could be even higher.

Bingo:

Kershaw, coming off his second Cy Young win, is eligible for arbitration for the final time and is currently on track to be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. To prevent that from happening, the Dodgers and Kershaw have been in discussions over a record-breaking deal that could pay $30 million per season for as many as 10 years.

To be sure, a mega-deal paying Kershaw $30 million per season shouldn't surprise anyone. To this point, the going rate for the best players has hovered right around $25 million per season. Alex Rodriguez got $27.5 million per season, but everybody else -- Albert Pujols, Robinson Canó, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and CC Sabathia -- all got around $25 million per season. There seems to have been a glass ceiling, which only Rodriguez was able to bust through (and even then, not by much). If someone's going to bust well through it, though, Kershaw's the No. 1 candidate, by virtue of his youth, his performance, and the bottomless pockets of his current employers.

Still, a 10-year, $300 million contract would be especially noteworthy. For whatever reasons, teams have heretofore held the line on the average annual values, with A-Rod's contract perhaps serving as a cautionary tale. Or maybe just an excuse. But if Kershaw gets a $30 million AAV, he'll hardly be alone. And once that barrier's been breached, why not $32 million, and then $35 million? There are no good reasons, considering MLB's revenues. Ultimately, a certain percentage of that money must flow to the members of the union, and lately the percentage has been unnaturally low. I suppose it might remain unnaturally low, with the players simply not able to keep up with the local TV money. But I suspect that within five years, a $30 million AAV won't seem particularly notable.

What's notable is a 10-year contract for a pitcher. Verlander, Hernandez, and Sabathia all have seven-year deals. Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain have six-year deals. And that's as long as they get. Or have gotten. For the obvious reason that it's incredibly difficult to predict what a pitcher will be doing in five years, let alone seven or more. So teams just don't try. They might commit to six or seven years for the very best, relatively young pitchers and hope that only one or two of those years are lost to injuries or ineffectiveness.

Ten years, though? There's only a small chance that Clayton Kershaw will be an outstanding pitcher in 2023. Or for that matter, in 2020. But of course the Dodgers, even more than the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Phillies, are playing a different game, the dollars merely an afterthought. This is probably small consolation for the other National League West teams, but at least Kershaw can't get any better.

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