MLB Reportedly Approves SNLA, Mainly To Funnel Dollars To Clayton Kershaw

dodger_money_tvWe’ve been waiting for a long time for Clayton Kershaw to finally sign that extension, and yesterday he finally did. And yet if this is even possible, that’s not the news from the last 24 hours that I think we’ve been waiting on the most. Bill Shaikin explains:

MLB has approved the Dodgers’ deal with TWC, two people familiar with the matter said Wednesday. Although there has been no announcement, the Dodgers have hired on-air talent for the new channel — including former players Orel Hershiser and Nomar Garciaparra — and have reached agreement with MLB about how much television revenue the team would share with the league.

Mark Walter, the Dodgers’ controlling owner, said documentation had delayed formal league approval of a deal to which both parties agreed long ago.

“Our understanding with MLB has not changed in months and months,” Walter said. “I never felt it was in any way hostile.”

First off: finally. That’s great news, since pitchers and catchers report in less than a month, and the lack of updates over the last few months was somewhat shocking. Shaikin adds that SNLA plans to air every spring training game, which is fantastic and, I believe, unprecedented. (Of course, whether you’ll be able to see any of those games is an open question; there’s still the endless fight about the channel’s carriage with DirecTV and U-verse and everyone else to get through, and as we saw with the Lakers in 2012, those battles tend to be drawn-out and ugly.)

While neither Kershaw’s deal nor MLB approval of SNLA have been officially announced yet, there’s just absolutely no way that the timing here is a coincidence. A month ago, when we were all getting panicky about Kershaw remaining unsigned, I spitballed a few possible reasons for the delay. This was one of them:

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.

A month later, both are happening — or at least, reported to be done or close to it — within hours of one another. I’m having a real hard time believing those two things have nothing to do with one another, though Shaikin says that the MLB deal was agreed to long ago and just not announced yet.

Anyway, 48 hours ago Kershaw didn’t have a deal and the TV situation was up in the air. The carriage fight looms, but we have a lot more clarity and resolution on both situations. Not a bad few days, as far as days go.

 

Clayton Kershaw’s Contract Looks Even Better

clayton_kershaw_openingday2013Jon Heyman comes through with the details on Clayton Kershaw‘s contract:

2014: $22m ($18m signing bonus, $4m salary)
2015: $30m
2016: $32m
2017: $33m
2018: $33m
—————-
2019: $32m
2020: $33m

Why is there a dotted line after 2018? That’s because that’s when his opt-out date is, and if he chooses to opt out — and walk away from the $65m due him in the final two years — the Dodgers would have essentially signed him to a 5/$150m contract.  Think about that for a second, won’t you? We were worried this would be $300 million, and that’s less guaranteed money than Manny Ramirez got 13 years ago

Yes, pitchers carry more risk than hitters, but still. I’m not saying that I want him to opt out, of course, but the fact that Kershaw is staying for at least the next five years on a contract that is large but not even close to being obscene, as we all worried? Honestly, I’m stunned. I love this deal. I love it hard.

Clayton Kershaw Signs For Only Some of The Years and Some Of The Dollars

kershaw_nlcs_game2

It says a whole lot about both the greatness of Clayton Kershaw and the financial health of the game in general that the Dodgers just signed him to a $215 million extension over seven years, and my reaction is, “wow! that’s not that bad!” Think about that. Two hundred and fifteen million dollars, and I’m wondering if he could have managed more.

And it might not even be $215m, since it comes with an opt-out after the fifth year, which would be after his age-30 season. You’ll probably hear why that’s a bad thing, because it means that he could leave, but it’s really not: if he does, it means you signed Kershaw to a five-year contract when every rumor said he’d require ten.

This does more than lock up the best pitcher in baseball, by the way. It avoids an entire season of “does he want to stay? does he want to go?” annoyance. It avoids distraction. It avoids questions about his relationship with the team. It keeps the focus on the field, and it just had to be done before the season got going.

This, I can say without reservation, is a great contract. It’s the next one — when he’s in his 30s and probably gets $300 million — that might scare me. But for a team with no budget limit to lock up a man who is well on his way to being one of the best pitchers in the history of the game for his age 26-30 seasons, at the very least, well, this was a no-brainer. It had to be done. It’s done.

Next stop: Tanaka. Is that greedy? Probably. It’s good to be a Dodger fan. But it’s better to be Clayton Kershaw.

Clayton Kershaw Still Hasn’t Signed An Extension

kershaw_dark_2013-04-17

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.

92topps_claytonkershawPossible, 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.

2013 Dodgers in Review #26: SP Clayton Kershaw

90topps_claytonkershaw1.83 ERA / 2.39 FIP 236.0 IP 8.85 K/9 1.98 BB/9 6.5 fWAR (A+)

2013 in brief: All of the awesome. All of it. 

2014 status: PLEASE SIGN THIS MAN TO A CONTRACT.

******

We started off the calendar year by dreaming about how many dollars Clayton Kershaw would get; by the end of March, it seemed that a long-term deal was potentially imminent. It didn’t happen, and it still hasn’t happened, and while we’ll certainly get back to that, he managed to do a great job keeping our attention on the field, not off.

Like, immediately. I know that the 2013 season was full of insanity for the Dodgers, and I know that between brawls and Yasiel Puig and everything else there’s probably about 15 different games that might have been considered “game of the year”. For my money, I’m not sure any of them tops what happened on Opening Day, with the defending champion Giants in town, with the most anticipated season of Dodger baseball in years ready to kick off. Before the injuries, before Puig, before the lows and the highs, there was Kershaw throwing darts… and not being supported by his offense, being tied 0-0 in the bottom of the eighth. (This is going to be a recurring theme.)

Kershaw stepped up against reliever George Kontos, swung at the first pitch… and absolutely destroyed a ball to center field — nothing cheap about it. It was the first time a Dodger pitcher had hit a homer on Opening Day since Don Drysdale in 1965, and it set the town for what would be a fantastic season, as you can see from the reaction:

Five days later, Kershaw tossed seven shutout innings against the Pirates, which he needed since the team only scored once for him. In two starts, he’d thrown 16 shutout innings, with a 16/1 K/BB, and even that one walk was immediately taken care of via pickoff.

Of course, even the immortal Kershaw isn’t perfect, because he was merely very good rather than elite over his next three starts as he struggled with his command somewhat. Then again, there were also starts like the one he had on April 28:

Kershaw struck out 12 hitters for the fifth time in his career (including his career-high of 13, back in 2009), and did so without a single walk. That 12/0 combination is something he’s done just once before, in 2010 against the Cubs. Only one Brewer reached third base, and at one point Kershaw retired 18 consecutive batters. For any other pitcher, this would be a phenomenal achievement. For Kershaw, it’s almost par for the course. He’s. Just. That. Good.

As team began to spiral early in the season, Kershaw continued to excel. In a span of six starts between April 23 and May 20, he allowed five earned runs, striking out 42 against only 10 walks, including striking out 11 Nationals over 8.2 shutout innings on May 14 and tossing a complete game in Milwaukee on May 20. When he had a tough start in St. Louis on May 26, we realized that it was the first time he’d allowed more than three earned runs since the previous July.

But it was just a bump in the road, really, because Kershaw was just dominant everywhere. At home, his OPS against was .525; on the road, it was .517. At home, his ERA was 1.54; on the road, it was 2.14. The worst ERA he had in any single month of the season was in June… at just 2.65. I’d like to say that we’re fully aware of the greatness we’re seeing, but no, I don’t think we are.

On July 2, he went into Colorado and pitched a complete game shutout, finally pulling the Dodgers out of the NL West basement. Then it was eight one-run innings in San Francisco, and 10 strikeouts at home against Colorado, and even though his July ended with a great pitching duel against Hiroki Kuroda that the team was unable to pull out, it was one of the best months a pitcher could possibly have — in 47 innings, he’d allowed seven earned runs with a 43/2 K/BB.

Yet despite his greatness, we were starting to worry that the lack of offensive support my cost him the recognition he deserved. For example, on August 6, after the team’s road winning streak was broken in St. Louis:

Kershaw was fine up until the fifth inning when he let two score on three hits and a groundout, but ultimately allowed two runs or fewer for the 18th time in 24 starts. He has just 10 wins in those 18, and those are actually his only 10 wins on the season against seven losses. That’s what happens when you get the fifth-lowest run support of any starter, as he did entering today, and I’m only even mentioning his 10-8 mark because we’ll need to remember it when he doesn’t win what really ought to be a third straight Cy Young award.

…and we went into more depth on it the next day. Kershaw, meanwhile, did nothing but continue to excel. For example, August 8 against Tampa Bay:

Dee Gordon struck out for the second out — more on him in a second, obviously — and up stepped Kershaw, as we all prepared our “how to turn two on, none out into zero runs in three easy steps” jokes. Kershaw, perhaps mindful of how little support his team has given him lately, took matters into his own hands with a smashed single through the right side, plating two. Carl Crawford singled through Ryan Roberts, then Kershaw came around when Mark Ellis doubled to deep left (one of his three hits, including a homer), and that was more than the mighty Kershaw would need. (He would score again in the fourth after reaching on a failed fielder’s choice, then coming around on an Adrian Gonzalez double.)

Of course, Kershaw gets paid for what he does on the mound, and he was once again magnificent in allowing just three hits and two runs (one earned) over eight. Kershaw didn’t even allow a hit until the fifth, and had his defense not failed him with four errors behind him, he might well have completed it himself. Each of the first two Rays to reach via error were immediately erased via double play, and he managed to drop his already spectacular ERA to 1.88. Pay this man all of the money, please.

He merely followed that up by allowing one earned run in his next three games… losing the game in which he’d dared to allow a run, of course.

By the middle of August, he was pitching so unbelievably well that we were seriously having conversations about him potentially winning the MVP:

It seems the conditions are there for Kershaw, the best player on the best team in the league, to do something rare. But if we’re going to ding other guys for stats I don’t care about, we have to do it for Kershaw, too. He’s not going to win 24 games like Clemens & Verlander did. He’s not going to win 20, either; with something like ~eight starts remaining, he could top out at 16 or 17. That’s enough to win him the Cy Young, because Harvey & Wainwright aren’t especially likely to do a whole lot better, but it’s going to make it hard to convince the “pitchers shouldn’t win MVP” crowd, no matter how much we talk about how little wins matter for pitchers.

So can Kershaw win the MVP? Sure, and I think he’ll probably get a few first-place ballots. Unfortunately, he’s probably not likely to win it, and I can’t really argue with that; if I had a vote, I’d probably go McCutchen. But the fact that we’re even having this conversation shows just how special this season has been for him.

It didn’t help that he then went out and had a mini-slump, allowing five earned runs in Colorado on September 2, then really not looking good at all in Cincinnati on September 8. But with the benefit of some extra rest, he allowed two earned runs over his final three starts of the season. (Again, losing one.) Before the final one was even over, with the team on its way to crushing Colorado 11-0 , we had to praise him once more:

That lowers Kershaw’s ERA to 1.83, the first pitcher to finish below 2 since Roger Clemens in 2005 and just the 19th such season since the mound was lowered in 1969. He’s the first pitcher to lead the bigs in ERA for three seasons in a row since Greg Maddux did so between 1993-95, and just the third overall. (Lefty Grove did it four years in a row, between 1929-1932.) He joins Sandy Koufax as the only Los Angeles Dodger pitcher with a sub-2 ERA; along with Koufax and long-forgotten Nap Rucker, he’s one of just three Dodgers with five straight sub-3 ERA seasons.

In 33 starts this year, Kershaw allowed zero or one earned runs a shocking 19 times, and two runs or fewer 25 times. Between pitching and batting — you remember the homer against San Francisco on Opening Day, right? — he’s been worth about seven wins, which makes him one of the five or so best players in baseball, and he’s not even playing every day.

Kershaw started twice against Atlanta in the NLDS, coming back on short rest for Game 4, striking out 18 in 14 innings while allowing just one earned run. He also made this Braves fan sadly shake his head in awe:

He was outstanding in Game 2 of the NLCS also, though the Dodgers still lost, with Don Mattingly controversially lifting Kershaw after only six innings and 72 pitches, and… well, the less said about Game 6 the better. The stat line is ugly, even accounting for the fact that many of those 10 hits were well-placed grounders or bloops; Kershaw didn’t have it, and even if he did, the offense only had two hits against Michael Wacha.

Still, a disappointing end to the season should in no way color what is, with no hyperbole, one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time. Kershaw easily won his second Cy Young, taking all but one first-place vote, and in case you haven’t noticed yet, he’s still not even 26. He’s the best pitcher in baseball. He’s completely living up to the absolutely unfair Sandy Koufax comparisons that were placed upon him. And until he’s signed to a long-term deal, none of us are going to be able to sleep easily.

******

Next! Aww, poor Chad Billingsley!