Clayton Kershaw has a big decision to make this week

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It’s probably pretty difficult to focus on your future mere minutes after losing the deciding game of a World Series, but (a) Clayton Kershaw was asked about his future last night; and (b) given how quickly he has to make decisions about that future, it was fair to ask him.

Specifically, Kershaw was asked about his opt-out clause, which he must either exercise or not exercise in the next three days. If he does, he becomes a free agent. If he doesn’t, he remains under contract with the Dodgers for the next two seasons at $32 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020.

Here’s what he said about that at the postgame presser last night when asked if he wanted to stay in Los Angeles:

Look, you know, I know the future questions are obviously coming for myself. I don’t want to take away from tonight, obviously, and what everybody is feeling. I never want to put the focus just on me or anything like that. This was a tough one for us tonight, it really was. Myself, personally, you know, it was tough. David pitched a great game and I got outpitched and we lost the game. I’ve got three days now to think about all of that stuff before anything happens. And so it will be an eventful three days for me, and I’ll try to figure it out . . .

. . . I haven’t made the decision yet. We have three days to talk, between us and the Dodgers, see what happens. And then we’ll go from there.

When asked if he thinks he and his agent will talk to the Dodgers about a possible extension before he has to opt-out or not, Kershaw said, “I think we’ll have some conversations, for sure.”

Kershaw, who will turn 31 during spring training, posted a 2.73 ERA and 155/29 K/BB ratio in 161 and a third innings over 26 starts in 2018. As I wrote last night, he’s not the pitcher he was when he signed the seven-year, $215 million deal he’s currently on. His fastball velocity is down, likely due to back and shoulder problems he’s experienced over the past couple of seasons and, partially, because of the mileage on his odometer. He’s still better than most pitchers in the game, but he’s certainly at a turning point in his career.

He could come back after a productive and healthy offseason, return to his Cy Young-caliber form and show everyone that his 2018 season was a fluke. He could, however, not regain his fastball but make the sort of adjustments great pitchers often have to make as they age and lose a few ticks, continuing on as a valuable pitcher for many years to come, albeit a different kind of pitcher. There is a risk, however, that he never regains his fastball and he is not able to make such adjustments and the diminished Kershaw we saw in the postseason is what he’ll be throughout his 30s.

What does that mean for Kershaw and the Dodgers? It’s hard to say.

On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine him not being in a Dodgers uniform. On the other hand, even if Kershaw likely can’t get a deal on the free agent market with an average annual value higher than he’s under contract for if he doesn’t opt-out, it’s not hard to imagine him getting a multi-year deal that keeps him under contract someplace for much longer than two years and for a greater aggregate value than the $65 million he’s guaranteed if he stays put. Even if he’s not Cy Young Kershaw, a ton of teams would love to have him. There would certainly be a market for his services if he left Los Angeles.

Yet, I still think he’ll stay in Los Angeles, just not on the current deal. Rather, I can see him signing a new deal in which the current two years left are restructured with deferred money and more guaranteed years, giving him the equivalent of that longer-term, lower average annual salary that he might get out on the free agent market, only getting it from the Dodgers. Doing that would serve everyone’s purposes, it would seem:

  • It would give Kershaw more guaranteed dollars than he has at the moment;
  • It would allow the Dodgers to lower their single year commitments to him, which would give them greater flexibility and would allow them a better chance to stay under the luxury tax threshold; and
  • It would keep Kershaw in Los Angeles which is good for both him and the Dodgers from a baseball and marketing/legacy perspective.

It doesn’t have to go that way, but I suspect it does. Either in the next three days or following a Kershaw opt-out in which the Dodgers and Kershaw both realize that they’re right for each other.

 

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.