Around The Diamond: Is Kershaw Worth The Investment If He Opts Out?

Jared Sandler
May 14, 2018 - 10:26 am
Clayton Kershaw

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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1. The Dodgers are in trouble. While they might not be the most beat up team in quantity, they might be in quality. Corey Seager, their star shortstop, is out for the year. Justin Turner, their MVP-candidate third baseman, has yet to play (though, he should return this week). And, most of all, their ace phenom, Clayton Kershaw, is on the shelf due to left biceps tendinitis. Not to mention other injured bodies like starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and valuable reliever, Tony Cingrani (who has underperformed this year). I also wonder about guys like Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig, among others, who had unreal years that might not be replicable this year. Then there’s the young Cody Bellinger who is sure to turn things around, but has gotten off to a very slow start. And, of course, we can’t forget Kenley Jansen, the dominant closer who has looked very mortal this year, a reality magnified by a struggling Dodgers bullpen.

The biggest reason why they’re in trouble, though? The Diamondbacks are for real and have the ability to get better with both health and wiggle room at the deadline. Not only that, the NL East and NL Central look like divisions with at least three playoff contenders that will make the wild card race incredibly fun and incredibly challenging.

The Dodgers have more than enough ammunition to make moves from their system, but I wonder whether Andrew Friedman, who is known to be very tight in dealing promising minor leaguers, might take his foot off the pedal and put more of an emphasis on next year and beyond. While Dodgers fans are itching for a title after having so many promising teams fall short and last year’s team come so close, they have a very bright future. You never know how long windows stay open, despite what projections might suggest, but they are well positioned to compete for years. Neither divisions nor playoff spots can be won in May, but they can certainly be lost and If they dig too deep of a hole there might be no reason for Andrew Friedman to make a move.

2. Speaking of the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw presents a very interesting case. It has been a foregone conclusion that Kershaw will opt out of his contract at the end of this year, and make even bigger bucks than he’s already making in so doing. However, with his velocity drop and yet another injury, there is certainly a chance he doesn’t opt out. Is that scenario likely? I’m not prepared to say that just yet, but it has gone from seeming impossible to at least somewhat plausible.

If he does opt out, it seems like the two most realistic outcomes are that Kershaw stays with the Dodgers under the terms of a new (and presumably more lucrative) contract, or he comes home to the Texas Rangers. Some out there have suggested the Yankees might make a run at him as well as some other big market teams, but I don’t see Kershaw leaving unless it is to come home. For years, he’s quietly smiled about the possibility of one day pitching for his hometown team, though that might not be a lure strong enough to draw him away from the Dodgers.

With all that said, the biggest question for me is: Will he be worth it?

I love Kershaw. He, more than any pitcher, is someone I’d pay to see. Heck, I’ve seen him a decent amount standing in the box against him growing up. Fouling a ball off against him remains one of my proudest accomplishments, ha! But I’m not sure he’s worth the risk…and yes, it’s a risk.

He’s currently making around $35.5 million. He’s due to make around $71 million over the final two years of his contract if he chooses not to opt out. Let’s say he takes an AAV pay cut and aims to sign a deal worth $150 million over 5 years. That’s a big time commitment, especially with MLB’s new luxury tax.

Yes, Kershaw is arguably the greatest pitcher of his generation and one of the greats all-time, but MLB GM’s are no longer paying guys for the past, rather what they expect in the future. At the time of Opening Day 2019, Kershaw will be 31 years old with more than 2,000 innings under his belt (as long as he makes 3-4 more starts this year). He’ll be coming off of a year in which he dealt with left biceps tendinitis and in past years with back injuries. He’s also experienced a decline in velocity (not a good sign) and, in general, is a pretty high effort thrower.

Yes, Kershaw absolutely has the ability to turn it around and regain super stud status, thus rendering a deal such as the one we proposed more than worthwhile. However, it is a risk, and a risk that science suggests is big enough to pause and ask the question once I’m hearing very few ask: Will he be worth it?

3. Sticking in the NL West for one last bit, hats off to the Diamondbacks and their front office for a bullpen that has MLB’s best era (2.41) and lowest opponents BA (.198). Credit their front office and coaching staff. There was plenty of momentum to insert Archie Bradley as their closer after his 2017, but they opted to use him in that utility reliever role Andrew Miller (among others) has made so popular and proven so valuable. Instead, they took a chance on Brad Boxberger, the former standout closer with Tampa Bay who hasn’t truly had a full workload since 2015 due to injuries. They’ve got tremendous bullpen depth, too, with guys like Yoshihasa Hirano out of Japan, against whom no one is really hitting, especially righties (.121/.147/.212), and Jorge De La Rosa, against whom no one is really hitting, especially lefties (.050/.130/.100). Now if they can just get Paul Goldschmidt going at the plate…

4. Random note: One things scouts are challenged with at times is evaluating guys who grow up in places like Texas and California where you can virtually play year-round versus guys who grow up on the East coast where that window is more limited due to weather. Another challenge is evaluating players who play against what is perceived to be weaker competition. Well, how about 

Mike Soroka? The young 21 year-old right-handed pitcher is from Calgary, Alberta, which deals with worse weather than every midwest MLB team in the month of April and probably isn’t ripe with the best competition.

According to Baseball-Almanac.com, Soroka is just the third MLB player from Calgary, joining Jim Henderson and Ryan Radmanovich.

5. Adam Ottavino is having an unreal season so far. His double-take WHIP is 0.68 and he’s striking out 15.55/9 with an opponents BA of .087. I’ve spent time on Twitter discussing Josh Hader already this year, but not much on Ottavino who maybe hasn’t been as good as Hader, but has certainly been tremendous in his own right. Some other relievers who aren’t their team’s primary closer having great years: Jeremy Jeffress, Tyler Clippard, Carl Edwards Jr., Luis Garcia, and Dan Winkler.

6. Both the Yankees (28-12) and Red Sox (28-12) are off to hot starts, setting up what should be a fun AL East race. On the path to the AL East, these two teams will be competing against each other on the field and among their front offices vying for starting pitching…at least, it seems that way right now.

The Yankees have my pre-season AL Cy Young pick in Luis Severino, who is off to a great start. But after that? Meh. Masahiro Tanaka’s ERA since last year is 4.73 and I’m not sure the Yankees want C.C. Sabathia as their third best SP heading into the playoffs, though he pitched well in the post-season last year. Sonny Gray is the real issue here because not only does he not seem like someone you want starting in the playoffs, he doesn’t seem like someone you want starting in the regular season right now. Starting pitching for the Yanks appeared to be a concern entering the year and nothing’s changed anyone’s mind about that.

The Red Sox are in way better shape with Chris Sale atop the rotation and Rick Porcello, who appears to have rediscovered his Cy form behind him. I’m not sure if Red Sox folks trust Price and even if he puts together a strong regular season, neither he nor Porcello have a great playoff track record.

Oh, and while sometimes it seems like the baseball world revolves around the Yankees and Red Sox, it doesn’t…other teams will join them in the quest for starting pitching come July.

7. POWER RANKINGS

1. Boston Red Sox: Their superb team defense is the separating factor for me.

2. New York Yankees: Both Betances and Robertson have been better than the numbers and will turn it around soon.

3. Houston Astros: I expect them to hold the top spot in a month. Their rotation might regress a bit, but their lineup has underperformed and should progress a bunch.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks: They’re doing this with Paul Goldschmidt underperforming. Once he gets going, look out!

5. Atlanta Braves: There’s nothing imposing about their rotation, but their lineup is for real!