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.