After learning of Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215 million deal yesterday a lot of people started to speculate what his contract meant for other pitchers. Comments about how Max Scherzer and David Price were probably doing cartwheels. About how Jon Lester can start looking at higher-priced real estate. That sort of thing.
Obviously what one player makes has an effect on what other players make, but the specific nature and strength of that effect varies. Sometimes there’s a one-to-one kind of thing at work: Player A is getting $X million so Player B can now demand and expect to receive $X million too. Or $X million + $Y. Or $X million over a longer period of years. Larry Granillo looked into highest-paid players by year a couple of years ago and, for the most part, you see incremental change. Top-paid players go up by a million or so in average annual value and, in many instances, the next guy got his contract specifically because the previous guy got his and the idea was to top him.
But it’s not always that way. Once in a while the player who got the big contract is an outlier and the comps are nowhere near as perfect.
A great example of this is Alex Rodriguez. His first $250 million deal with Texas came in 2001. He was a 24 year-old Gold Glove shortstop who hit homers like a first baseman. He was a perfect storm of talent and youth and marketability (at the time anyway) and his deal was leaps and bounds above the last guy’s big deal. Yes, it helped that Tom Hicks bid against himself to inflate A-Rod’s deal, but there’s no escaping the fact that Rodriguez represented a rare and unusual commodity who reached his peak negotiating leverage at the perfect time. And it took over a decade for players to catch up with him in average annual value.
I feel like Kershaw is more like A-Rod in this respect than not. He’s considerably younger and more accomplished than Price, Lester or Scherzer. He also had the good fortune of playing for a team with more money than anyone at a time when there is more urgency for teams to keep the players they’ve drafted and grown themselves due to the lower quality of players who actually reach free agency, the qualifying offer and things like that.
Yes, Clayton Kershaw is the tide that will lift those other guys’ boats, but I don’t believe he’ll lift it quite as strongly as some may expect. My guess: Kershaw remains the highest paid player, by annual average value, for several years and that no one comes particularly close to him for a good while.
And then Mike Trout’s big deal will blow his out of the water.