Clayton Kershaw Is Worth Every Cent
Published: Friday, January 17, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 17, 2014 16:01
This Wednesday, Clayton Kershaw agreed to a mammoth seven-year, $215 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to league sources. He will earn $30.7 million per year, more than $3 million higher than the previous record for highest annual value in an MLB contract. The money however, does not even tell the whole story; Kershaw can opt out after five years, likely just to sign an even higher contract with the same Dodgers, who are breaking the bank for what seems like every half-decent baseball player. Clayton Kershaw is worth every penny that the Dodgers paid for him. A contract this mind-boggling is never easy to analyze, but after measuring every angle in the discussion of whether or not the contract was smart for the Dodgers, the sensibility of the deal becomes clear. There are two general perspectives that people hold not just on Kershaw’s contract, but any huge deal signed by an MLB pitcher. The first, probably more supported by younger fans, says that the market rate for top talent has skyrocketed along with MLB revenues, and that Kershaw — arguably the best pitcher in baseball — will be worth it. The second, more old-school perspective dictates that taking a risk on a pitcher for seven years at such a steep price never makes sense.
While I belong to the first group, the second opinion should not be disregarded. The career of a professional athlete, let alone a fragile MLB pitcher, could realistically end any second. Johan Santana signed a 6-year, $137 million deal with the New York Mets before the 2008 season. He gave the Mets two years that justified that salary, one very good year, one injury-plagued year, and two seasons in which he did not pitch a single inning due to shoulder problems. Such a precedent is a completely relevant to the conversation about Kershaw. After all, one need not search hard for an example in which pitchers who showed no previous signs of elbow or shoulder problems had their careers suddenly derailed by such injuries. Mike Hampton and Kevin Brown are both names that young, diehard fans might not know. For a pair of pitchers who signed $100 million contracts in the past 15 years, it seems weird that their performances, and reputations, never lived up to their price tags.
Here is the thing, though: Clayton Kershaw is being put in another tier from “just any other $100 million pitcher,” and he deserves it. Even though injuries can admittedly be sudden, Kershaw’s durability must be noted. In his past three years — in which the Dodgers gave their young ace a heavier workload and more innings – Kershaw has posted 33 starts every single year. In those three years, he has mowed down any hitter who dug in against him, resulting in his microscopic 1.83 ERA and 2.39 FIP this year. (FIP, Field Independent Pitching, aims to measure a pitcher’s performance independent of the fielding behind him, and it is measured roughly on the same scale as ERA.)
But there is one more variable: his age. Many have touched on how important Kershaw’s youth is to this contract, but I still believe it is underrated. Kershaw turns 26 in about two months, which makes all the difference. When Santana signed his contract, he was 29. If Santana had signed his six-year contract at 26, his performance would have been worth the money he made and possibly more. Obviously, it is a hypothetical example, but the late 20s are generally accepted to be a player’s prime years. As Bill James, who is considered the king of MLB stats, once wrote, “Most players are declining by age 30; all players are declining by age 33.” James and other statisticians have noted that the best players often find a way to either expand or delay their primes, simply due to the fact that they’re better at making adjustments to their game than their peers. Kershaw’s contract will end at either age 30 or 32.
The Dodgers will essentially be paying for the best pitcher in the game during the best years of his career. That is why they feel comfortable paying their ace such an exiborbitant amount of money. There is also the fact that MLB, in the last year and a half, has agreed to TV deals with Fox Sports and Turner Sports for a combined $6.8 billion over eight years. The Dodgers signed their own television contract that will pay them $8 billion over 25 years. They were also purchased in 2012 for $2.15 billion, a number which almost defies comprehension. They, like most MLB teams, can afford this risk. The league is doing great the Dodgers are doing great, and, most importantly, Clayton Kershaw is great.
Tom Hoff is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.