The Los Angeles Dodgers signed ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a seven year extension worth $215 million, reports Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN. Kershaw’s contract includes an out clause that can be exercised after five years, which would allow him to hit free agency at 30.
The deal constitutes the highest average annual salary in baseball history. Also, it surpasses the extensions granted to Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander as the most money guaranteed to a pitcher.
Kershaw, who won’t turn 26 until March, was one year away from free agency. He’s already thrown six seasons in the major leagues, over which he has managed a stingy 2.60 ERA. In the last three years he’s been even better, pitching to a 2.21 ERA, with strikeout and walk rates of 26.1 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. The southpaw has won the CY Young award in two of those three seasons, and he finished second in 2012.
Here’s a list of pitchers from the last 50 years that Kershaw might reasonably be compared to based on their workload and success through their age-25 season.
As you can see, this is elite company. Saberhagen and Appier represent the downside that accompanies any pitcher, namely injuries. Still, they continued to be very good pitchers when they could stay healthy. The remaining hurlers are some of the best in the history of the game.
After seeing the Hernandez and Verlander deals that were signed last offseason, it was apparent that the younger and better Kershaw would command the biggest deal ever for a pitcher. This deal recognizes that Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, yet it also allows him to reach free agency at a time when he should have several good years left.
Ultimately, Kershaw sacrificed some in annual salary for the opportunity to test the market five years from now. Given his expected value over the duration of the contract, this looks like a long-term contract that works out well for both sides.
Finally, it remains to be seen whether the Kershaw signing will remove the Dodgers from the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. With their lucrative TV deal, I would expect them to have money left over if they decide to pursue Tanaka. If that happens, a staff that already features Kershaw along with Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu and Dan Haren will vie with the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals for the best rotation in the major leagues.