Despite finish, Clayton Kershaw should come first for Dodgers this winter

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After 36 starts and 255 stellar innings, Clayton Kershaw finally let the Dodgers down on Friday, giving up seven runs in three-plus innings in Game 6 loss to the Cardinals. The defense played a role, but Kershaw was the first to admit afterwards that he just wasn’t his usual self. Maybe it was a bad day. Perhaps that first ever start on three days’ last week played a role. Regardless, it simply wasn’t meant to be tonight. At least he can take some solace in the likelihood that the end result would have been the same had he merely allowed two or three runs.

Now, the free-spending Dodgers enter a winter with question marks at two infield spots. They have to sort out what they’re going to do with their four starting outfielders in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. They’ll also have to decide whether to spend the money to add to a rotation that is sure to include Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and is due to get back Josh Beckett (shoulder) for the opener and Chad Billingsley (elbow) in May.

But, most of all, the Dodgers need to make a deal with Kershaw, who is entering his final year of arbitration and who will be eligible for free agency next winter.

It shouldn’t be overly difficult, even though the deal will almost surely be the biggest ever for a pitcher. The market is already set after the Tigers gave Justin Verlander what amounted to a five-year, $140 million extension in March. It just remains to be seen whether Kershaw will hold out for $30 million per season or if he’ll settle for something in the $28 million range with an extra guaranteed season or two. Frankly, there’s no reason for him to take less than $30 million.

It will get done. The Dodgers have too much money to risk letting a $20 million-$30 million gap stand in the way of a deal. They’ll almost certainly have to pay more if they wait until he’s a free agent; both the Yankees and Red Sox should have plenty of flexibility next winter and they wouldn’t be the only ones willing to go $30 million and beyond.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.