It is no secret that Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game, right now. He won his second Cy Young award in the last three seasons in 2013, after winning 16 games with a 1.83 ERA, 2.30 FIP, a 0.92 WHIP and 232 strikeouts in 236 innings. He did falter in game 6 of the NLCS, but otherwise, he was the best pitcher in baseball. And he is just 25 years old.
But, the elephant in the room for Dodgers fans is his upcoming free agency. He becomes a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, a season where the Dodgers will likely be the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series. On paper, they appear to have the strongest team in the NL, but they play 162 games for a reason. The best team on paper doesn't always win the World Series.
Last season, the Dodgers were rumored to have offered Kershaw a $300 million contract, that was said to be a lifetime contract. And recent reports indicate the two sides are still talking, but nothing is imminent. That leads me to the possibility that Kershaw may explore free agency at the end of the 2014 season.
Here is Dylan Hernandez, from the LA Times, in a November 2nd article discussing Kershaw's contract situation:
Unless Clayton Kershaw signs a new contract with the Dodgers, he will become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season — something he admitted to being curious about Saturday.
"I think any player, that's the reward of baseball, to make it to that point," Kershaw said. "I think any player gets curious when you get close, for sure."
I think it would be a huge mistake for the Dodgers to allow it to get to the point where Kershaw tests the free agent waters. The Dodgers have already stated that signing Kershaw to a long term contract is their #1 priority this offseason, but we have not heard of any recent talks on the contract length or money involved.
I think that is how Kershaw wants it to play out. He was not happy that the terms of their previous discussions were leaked to the press, so it could be that they two sides are talking, and we will hear about the extension only when it is finalized.
Kershaw is represented by agent Casey Close, who also represents Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka will probably get a contract in the $100 million range, or more. Kershaw could triple that contract in size at some point this offseason.
I don't see the Dodgers allowing Kershaw to hit free agency. I see them making him the highest paid pitcher in the game, and by a wide margin. The fact that he is just 25 years old benefits Kershaw in these negotiations, as he probably has at least another 10 years left, or more, so it is possible this contract is not his last free agent contract.
With that said, we could se a historic contract signed this offseason, with Kershaw being offered close to $30 million per season over the next 7, 8, 9 or 10 seasons. If anyone is worth that kind of money, it is Kershaw. But until he signs with the Dodgers, the possibility that he reaches free agency becomes more and more a reality as we approach spring training. Kershaw indicated last year that he would not talk contract extension during the season, and I am sure he will do the same this season. So, it is no surprise that signing Kershaw is the Dodgers #1 priority this offseason. They have made all of their offseason moves thus far, building a very strong bullpen. Now is the time to get Kershaw signed to that long term deal.