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.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.