Why doesn’t anyone go year to year anymore?

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Baseball owners got a good thing going on.

Sporting a pretty impeccable record after three seasons, Clayton Kershaw was eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter. Coming off a season that saw him take the NL Cy Young Award and the pitcher’s triple crown, he had a chance to set a new salary record for pitchers with his service time.

And yet he passed. Kershaw agreed to a two-year, $19 million contract on Tuesday. He didn’t even insist on receiving as much as Tim Lincecum got from the Giants two years ago. As a super-two player, Lincecum received $23 million for two years from the Giants after 2009.

I get why Kershaw would want to play it safe and take the payday. That first $20 million certainly sets one up for life in a way a $6.5 million salary for 2012 (that’s what the Dodgers offered him in arbitration) wouldn’t have.

Still, young players are giving up too much earnings potential in multiyear deals lately. And that everyone is doing it makes arbitration that much more of a risk for each new class of players.

That’s because arbitration is all about comparables. The players and teams both look at players with similiar performance and service time in judging their requests and offers. It’s weighed heavily in the event that the case eventually goes before an arbitrator.

But these days so many of the comparables are already locked up to long-term deals paying them less than what they could be earning. Who does Kershaw compare to? Cole Hamels? As part of a three-year deal, he made $4.35 million in what would have been his first year of arbitration. Jon Lester? $3.75 million in the second year of a five-year deal. Lincecum is the closest match. He made $8 million as a super-two player and $13 million with three-plus years of service time last year. 

Kershaw asked for $10 million in arbitration this winter, a price that seemed pretty reasonable given his performance. But rather than hold out for it, he’ll get a $500,000 signing bonus, $7.5 million this year and $11 million next year.

And so the cycle will continue. That so few of the game’s great young players have been willing to test arbitration holds down the salaries of the group as a whole. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for baseball. In fact, it’s probably a good thing; where would the Rays be right now if they had to pay Evan Longoria, James Shields and Ben Zobrist arbitration salaries? Still, I’d rather see the Kershaws of the game claim a bigger piece of the pie.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.