The Dodgers may need another reliever, and they definitely need a few bench pieces. They could also probably stand to extend Hanley Ramirez, and they may yet deal off an excess outfielder. There’s still work to be done, and yet if they did absolutely none of those things, fans would still be happy, as long as the team brings the people the one gift they really want: Clayton Kershaw signed to a long-term deal that keeps him a Dodgers into the 2020s.
Obviously, we’ve been talking about this seemingly forever. Last March, I reported that I believed an extension was imminent. That didn’t come to pass, of course, though I still think the info was good — it was reported elsewhere, and the two sides probably were very close, but just couldn’t get it over the finish line. Since then, we’ve heard various reports that the sides “continue to talk,” which Ned Colletti reiterated on the radio this week, or “haven’t had talks,” which was from last month, or that Kershaw is “curious about free agency,”or that the Dodgers offered $300 million and were turned down, which I don’t really buy into for obvious reasons. It should go without saying to believe nothing you hear in the media at this point. Reports on Kershaw’s talks are about as reliable as on Masahiro Tanaka‘s posting.
Still, it’s the question I get more than any other: What’s happening with Kershaw? Will they keep him? What if he goes into 2014 unsigned? What is the meaning of life? Let’s try to look at the reasons it might not be done yet.
1) Kershaw doesn’t want to stay in Los Angeles.
Kershaw and his wife are from Texas, so they must want to move back to Texas! It’s a far too simplistic argument, but one that pops up all the time. (Just like when Zack Greinke‘s wife, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, pushed her husband to the Rangers, right? Oh.)
Honestly, this isn’t something we can know. We’re not in the room or in his head. Externally, it sure seems like he enjoys pitching to good friend A.J. Ellis and competing with Greinke, while setting himself on a path to eternal greatness as the heir to Sandy Koufax that will feel just a slight bit different if he dons some other uniform, and he sure seems to enjoy hitting enough that heading off to one of Texas’ two American League teams could be a slight detriment. Conversely, he’s such a private individual that the fact that this process has become pretty public, including whomever leaked the $300m thing — true or not — could be making him unhappy.
But really, who knows? Maybe he really does want to go home. Maybe he hates LA traffic. Maybe the team is balking on giving him a solid gold helicopter to shuffle him to the stadium. I’m really only including this here because people seem to suggest it; honestly, we’re simply not able to know this. As much as people like to talk about this, these things very rarely overcome the allure of the largest amount of dollars available.
2) The two sides can’t agree on a contract.
Possible, yet not particularly likely. By the point, both sides almost certainly have a good idea of what the annual value is going to be ($25m-$30m annually sounds about right) and it seems difficult to think that if he does walk away, it’s because he thinks some other team will actually give more money than the Dodgers can.
If there’s a question here, it’s likely more about for how many years than it is dollars, but while it’s usually the team that wants fewer years while the player wants more, it’s not so obvious that’s the case here, simply because Kershaw is so young.
Remember, he doesn’t even turn 26 until March. Were he to leave following 2014, he’d only be entering his age-27 season with a new team. This isn’t like recent big-time free agent cases like Robinson Cano or Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton, where even a mid-range contract would put the player into their mid-to-late 30s and (presumably) out of reach of another massive contract. Is it difficult to see him saying, “I’d rather sign for four years at an astronomical average value and then be free to explore the market and pick up another huge deal heading into my age-31 season”? It’s not, really. (Pure speculation on my part, of course.)
But hey, maybe it just is about money. I’ve seen elsewhere that Kershaw “isn’t the type of greedy guy who would hold out for every last cent,” but that’s a pretty unfair statement. First of all, wanting to reap the rewards of your market value is hardly greedy; second, every dollar he can’t get out of the team is another dollar he’s unable to give to his charitable works, which we know is hugely important to him.
3) The Dodgers are waiting on the SNLA deal to be officially announced.
Despite the fact that we keep hearing new names being added to the team — ABC’s John Hartung is reportedly the latest — you’ll notice that there is, as of yet, not an official deal in place, or at least not one that has been approved by MLB. We keep hearing that it will be, but even when it is, there’s going to be some messy carriage fights with providers. Considering just how much a Kershaw deal is likely to cost, it’s theoretically possible that the team prefers to know for sure, in officially approved writing, that all the billions they’ve been banking on are actually coming in.
4) Contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars simply take time.
I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s true, and we saw how creative the club got with Greinke’s opt-out. The deadline is approximately November 5, 2014, or whenever five days following the World Series is, because that’s when the contract ends. It’s not Opening Day, 2014, so perhaps the sides are confident it will get done and aren’t needlessly rushing.
So is it necessarily a bad thing if this doesn’t happen by Opening Day? It’s certainly not great, but I’d argue it’s not as much of a problem as I think fans would think it would be. Kershaw seems to be a master of blocking out distractions, and it’s not like this group of players won’t have enough else to talk about. Unlike other situations, in-season talk of a July deadline trade doesn’t seem to be an issue on this team, and if it is, well, then enough else has gone wrong that there’s larger problems at hand. It certainly didn’t affect Cano or Pujols or Hamilton in their walk years, anyway.
I’d still put 80/20 odds on this getting done, and whether it’s a week from now or a month or six months matters only in terms of our own heartburn. Until it is done, however, a lot of Dodger fans are going to have some difficulty sleeping easily.