Is Clayton Kershaw’s contract a harbinger of things to come?

22 Comments

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.

Nationals’ sell-off a vindication for Dusty Baker

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Nationals threw in the towel on Tuesday, trading second baseman Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and 1B/OF Matt Adams to the Cardinals. The club also placed outfielder and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper on revocable waivers but took him back. The Nats’ sell-off is a vindication for former manager Dusty Baker, let go after the Nationals failed to advance past the NLDS for a second straight year.

Baker had roughly the same team current manager Dave Martinez did. It was arguably worse, considering he never wrote Juan Soto‘s name on the lineup card. The 2018 squad, sans Baker, has been marked by mutiny and underachievement. While failing to reach the NLCS in Baker’s two years was disappointing, he took them to Game 5 in the NLDS both years as well as 95 and 97 regular season wins. Right now, Martinez’s squad has a winning percentage more than 100 points lower than Baker’s last year. They’re on pace to go 80-82, which would be their first sub-.500 season since 2011.

Baker has always had an undeserved bad rap. He was, correctly, blamed for the Cubs’ demise, due somewhat to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior falling apart, ostensibly from overuse. However, after his stint in Chicago, Baker took the lowly Reds from the bottom of the NL Central to the top in two years between 2008-10. Then he took the Nationals, which had won a meager 83 games in 2015 and had made the playoffs just twice since moving from Montreal, to two consecutive NLDS Game 5’s.

Not much changed from 2017 to ’18. Martinez inherited Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Michael Taylor, Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy, Matt Wieters, Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover, among others. But for one reason or another — injuries, admittedly, make up one reason — almost all of these players are having worse years under Martinez than under Baker. Describing the 2018 team to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Baker said, “They’re together, but they’re separate.”

Is it strictly Baker that would make the difference? No, of course not. But the Nationals organization seems unwilling or unable to address issues that may extend into the front office. The Nats seem happy to go through a new manager every couple of years and hope that fixes all that ails them. Since Frank Robinson’s five years at the helm from 2002-06, Manny Acta managed two and a half years, Jim Riggleman one and a half, Davey Johnson two, Matt Williams two, Baker two. Maybe the problem was never the manager. Perhaps the problem is the Lerner family and Mike Rizzo.