Paying Clayton Kershaw

The Dodgers and reigning Cy Young champ Clayton Kershaw avoided arbitration yesterday when they agreed to a 2-year, $19 million dollar deal. The deal calls for $8 million in 2012 and $11 million in 2013. Hooray! Giant Christian foam party at Clayton’s house!

On the surface it looks like a big win for the Dodgers. Buying up the age 24 & 25 seasons from one of the best pitchers in baseball for a mere nineteen million bucks? Highway robbery! This, of course, ignores the arbitration structure that all players must navigate before they reach the free agency holy land.

As Dave Cameron points out at Fangraphs, Kershaw signs a deal nearly identical to the first-year arbitration contracts signed by Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum. The Dodgers successfully manipulated Kershaw’s service time where the Phillies and Giants failed, however. Both Hamels and Lincecum were both Super-Two players who earned an extra year of arbitration eligibility.

Kershaw doesn’t have the same resume as Hamels or Lincecum (though very few pitchers can match Timmy’s first three big league seasons) as he struggled with his control for the first two seasons. Now established as one of the games premier arms, Kershaw can trade a few bucks from his second arbitration year for the security of knowing his real pay day is still to come.

Clayton Kershaw remains poised to hit free agency at age 26, barring a long-term extension from the Dodgers. Whoever owns the team in 2014 will make getting such a deal done their number one priority (aside from, you know, actually building a decent team around their two highly paid stars.) Kershaw might not have the long-term security of Matt Moore but he has much, much, much more money. Depending on how things break down at Chavez Ravine, Clayton Kershaw could end up the most valuable trade chip in the game two years from now.

Each style of deal comes with risks, taking it year by year and making the most of the arbitration system while Matt Moore doesn’t have to worry about injury taking potential money off the table. Everybody gets paid in the end, don’t they?