The 2018-19 free agent class doesn’t look quite as exciting now as it has promised to at points in the past. Still, it’s a notable assemblage of talent. And at the top of the list of pitchers sits future Hall-of-Famer Clayton Kershaw.
Of course, that statement comes with some caveats. In particular, Kershaw will need to opt out of the remaining two years and $65MM on his deal. While that once seemed a foregone conclusion, Kershaw has not been quite his vintage self this season — or, in truth, in the campaign prior. With the backdrop of ongoing back problems, there are undeniably some cracks in the armor.
If Kershaw’s recent form has betrayed his mortality, though, it has still also illuminated his ongoing excellence and value. After all, in his 312 1/3 innings since the start of the 2017 season, he has compiled a 2.36 ERA with 9.7 K/9 against 1.5 BB/9. Even with the reduction in his velocity and swinging-strike rate on display this year, Kershaw has been among the most effective starters in baseball. And the years of unquestioned dominance that came before still represent an important background factor.
All things considered, there’s not much reason to think that Kershaw can’t beat 2/$65MM in free agency. Whether he reaches the open market could still be in question, to be sure. It’s not hard to imagine a new agreement of some kind with the Los Angeles organization coming together before Kershaw is forced to decide on the opt-out clause (or, if he does exercise it, before qualifying offer decisions are finalized). Then again, he and the team know much more about his medical situation than do the rest of us, so perhaps there’s still some possibility he’ll simply opt into the remainder of the deal.
Regardless of how it comes to pass, Kershaw will presumably end up with a more-or-less market-driven rate of pay, even if a deal comes with the Dodgers before he’s formally a free agent. After all, Kershaw’s reps at Excel Sports Management no doubt have a good idea what they think he’s worth, as does the L.A. front office.
For those of us on the outside looking in, it’s a bit more difficult to gauge. The Dodgers and others will surely be stingy, in particular, with the length of the commitment for a pitcher entering his age-31 season. But the focus here will be on the total cash posted rather than on how many seasons it’ll be spread over. Knowing what we know now, and presuming Kershaw finishes the season at his current trajectory and without any significant new injury issues, which level of total guarantee do you think he’ll sign at?