If you’ve been even a passive spectator in recent MLB offseasons it has become impossible to miss how crazy the money is. We keep hearing about all these new TV deals. “Regional sports network” has been bandied about enough to deserve its own acronym (RSN, duh. And not ROOT SN, though they are an RSN).
The highest profile TV deal – and ultimately the one that has been the starting gun on all of this craziness – was the Dodgers $6 billion contract they signed with Time Warner. As live television viewing dwindles, replaced by on-demand programming on the internet and DVR’d programming through cable boxes, sports remain essentially the sole cash cow over the television airwaves – and a couple of years ago, a couple of cable companies realized that.
Though these kinds of high-profile deals are still relatively unique – and while the Los Angeles market is the largest in the country – even if the paradigm shifts back to sanity, and the TV deals have dried up, they’ve made an indelible impact on the next decade of baseball. That impact is perhaps no better represented than by the contracts of Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and reportedly today, Clayton Kershaw.
It has been reported that Kershaw has agreed to a seven-year, $215 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the richest for any pitcher in the history of baseball, and by a $35 million margin over Justin Verlander.
Kershaw represents a relative perfect storm of events. He’s at his most-signable, that being in his arbitration years, at an age where a team can figure to buy out essentially his entire conventional prime, and he happens to play for a team with incomparable wads of cash that they’re willing to spend. Kershaw is a bit like Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season, only A-Rod played for a then-small-market team, and signed a crazy-large contract only after free agency.
Kershaw signed his contract a year before free agency. He had only one nutball ownership group to negotiate with, and nobody except his own pending free agency to help drive the price up. Kershaw signed a pre-arb extension that outpaced Justin Verlander’s in terms of average annual value, despite Verlander going into his eighth year of service time, and still under an otherwise sizable contract.
The obvious first take is compare Kershaw to Felix Hernandez. Hernandez and Kershaw are basically expected to be the same pitcher in terms of WAR production over the next five years according to Oliver. In that time The King will make $22.6 million less. After that Hernandez will still be owed $27.9 million, while Kershaw will be owed $65 million.
Of course, Kershaw will be younger, but pitchers are still pitchers. Sometimes pitchers get hurt. A lot of times pitchers get hurt. That’s why this contract is so monumental.
The Mariners didn’t get Felix Hernandez cheap, but he looks like a relative bargain right now.
The next logical step, and perhaps the ultimate cart-before-horse proposition, is to look at how this impacts Taijuan Walker‘s future.
If Taijuan Walker is as good as Kershaw in his first five seasons, there’s pretty much no doubt he’ll be in line for a similar extension. The problem is that these contracts become frameworks for lesser pitchers. By this time in Walker’s career there could be a dozen pitchers signed to equivalent contracts.
Being faced with the decision to decide on spending a lot of money on one of the best players in baseball is an enviable one, but not one that isn’t otherwise filled with risk just the same.