10/18 15:42 CDT Column: Big game and a big decision for Kershaw
Column: Big game and a big decision for Kershaw
By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Sports Columnist
Even before he took the mound to twirl a playoff masterpiece, the talk was it
could be the last time Clayton Kershaw --- who has an opt-out clause in the
contract that will pay him $70 million the next two years --- wears the Dodgers
That would be bad for the Dodgers on two fronts.
No. 1, it would mean they lose the next two games in Milwaukee and fall short
of the World Series. No. 2, it would mean they lose a pitcher who is in the
conversation just after Sandy Koufax when it comes to the all-time Dodger
Don't fear, Dodger fans. It's highly doubtful Kershaw is going anywhere.
The ace lefty was coy talking about possible free agency before his start
Wednesday in Los Angeles, when he redeemed himself for a dismal performance in
Game 1 of the NLCS by pitching three-hit ball over seven innings as the Dodgers
moved within a game of the World Series with a 5-2 win.
He said the kind of things a player is supposed to say to avoid tipping off his
thoughts or alienating any of his fans.
"I have not made a decision," Kershaw said. "And to my understanding you get 10
days after the World Series. So should be a busy 10 days."
Kershaw has the contractual right to opt out of the seven-year deal signed in
2014 that pays him $215 million, and to use the leverage that comes with it.
That's likely, at the very least, to get him a few more years at the same kind
of money he's making today.
Make no mistake about it, that money is huge. Kershaw is making $34 million
this year, putting him just behind Angels outfielder Mike Trout after leading
the highest-paid list for the previous three years.
And, for the most part, Kershaw has earned his pay. He's an astonishing 153-69
in 11 years as a Dodger, with an ERA of 2.39 and a WAR (wins above replacement)
But his innings are in decline, partly because of injury and partly because of
the way baseball is evolving. Kershaw's ERA has inched up as his fastball has
gone down in velocity, and he's no longer the automatic win Dodger fans pencil
him in for every time he takes the mound.
By itself, that might not be enough for teams to pass on emptying the wallet to
sign him. There aren't many impact players like Kershaw, and the idea of him
taking the mound every five days would have any general manager salivating.
But baseball doesn't value the starting pitcher like it used to, which was on
display in Wednesday's game when Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell removed
starter Wade Miley after just five pitches. The move was unconventional and
made mostly because Counsell hoped the Dodgers would load their lineup with
right-handed hitters, but the trend across baseball is toward using starters
less and replacing them with multiple relievers.
Fox analyst and Hall of Famer John Smoltz believes the analytical age is
causing teams to rethink the traditional rotation. It's cheaper --- and
sometimes more effective --- to have pitchers throw as hard as they can for as
long as they can, he says, and then replace them with another pitcher who can
do the same.
"It's hard-pressed for me to think that at the end of the day this is not just
a cheaper version of baseball," Smoltz said earlier this year. "You can operate
your team paying guys less and utilizing them in their younger years when
they're not making so much. Burn and churn and just keep shuffling the deck in
Kershaw's value to the Dodgers was also questioned when he was passed over as
Game 1 starter in the division series against Atlanta. Kershaw was miffed, then
went out to pitch eight innings of two-hit ball to win Game 2.
But he stumbled when picked to start the NLCS, not getting an out in the fourth
inning before being pulled. And while he rebounded against the Brewers in Game
5, the knock on Kershaw is that, for all his greatness, he has underperformed
at crucial times in the postseason and has yet to deliver the Dodgers a World
That could change in the next two weeks as the Dodgers chase their first
championship in 30 years. It might also convince the Dodgers to add as many
years onto Kershaw's contract as he will likely want.
It will be money well spent, because Kershaw is as much an institution in LA as
the great Dodger pitchers of the past. Vin Scully himself has compared him to
Koufax except, of course, for the fact Koufax won three World Series rings in
No matter what happens in Milwaukee, though, expect Kershaw to remain a Dodger
for years to come.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to
him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg