By Ross Newhan
If baseball's best pitcher is going to receive almost $31 million a year for the next seven, what does the best player receive?
The Angels may have to dig deeper into that question as it relates to Mike Trout after the Dodgers reached a record $215 million contract with Clayton Kershaw.
The latter is 25 and the former is 22, and there is a difference beyond age, of course, between two of SoCal's and baseball's brightest stars.
Kershaw has pitched more than 1,000 major league innings and was two days away from salary arbitration and a year away from free agency when he and the Dodgers agreed.
Trout has achieved his generally recognized stature as MLB's best all-around player after just two plus years. He will need another year before becoming eligible for aribtration and another four before free agency. The Angels don't have a gun at their head yet, but yet they do. Trout wasn't happy when they renewed him at $510,000 last year, only $20,000 above the big league minimum, and they can hardly afford to further antagonize their center fielder and MVP runner-up. They owe Albert Pujols eight more years and Josh Hamilton four--a potentially tough financial slog despite their TV billions--but can they risk not getting ahead of the Trout Express at some point over the next two seasons? Can they risk anything short of a seven to 10 year agreement eclipsing anything that has come before (or has Trout's displeasure over last season's renewal already left him of a mind to take it a year at a time until closer to free agency)?
The Dodgers knew they didn't want to reach Friday's deadline and have to exchange arbitration numbers with Kershaw and they certainly didn't want to get into the season with their left handed ace closing in on the temptation of free agency. On the basis of age and ability, with internal reports telling them that no pitcher at 1,000 innings or so had ever accomplished what Kershaw has, they knew what it would take, and what it would take hasn't been a deterrent to the Guggenheim group in its brief tenure as owner.
Only rarely anymore does any team allow its best player to get away, and this is what Kershaw had going for him: Two Cy Young Awards in the last three seasons, three straight National League ERA titles, two of the last three strikeout titles and a four year average of 225 innings, 230 strikeouts and a composite ERA of 2.37.
In addition, if Kerhaw is building a career comparable to his idol and mentor Sandy Koufax, he is also already something of a man of the people with his mop of hair, gregarious personality and charity work on two continents.
There are skeptics who will weigh the money and length and point out that a series of left handed pitchers over the years--Frank Tanana, Steve Avery and Don Gullet to name just three--began to demonstrate wear and tear after reaching 1,000 innings at a comparatively young age. They will also point out that Kershaw seemed to wear down as the playoffs wore on last year, turning in one of his worst efforts in the decisive Game 6 with St. Louis.
Nevertheless, at 25, given his statistical foundation, the fact he will still be in his prime when the seven years are up and that, as agent Casey Close negotiated, he can opt out after five years, the Dodgers clearly felt the better part of history as it relates to their own left hander was on their side. They now have five players who will earn $20 million or more in 2014 and a payroll certain to exceed an MLB high $250 million with the lingering question of whether to extend Hanley Ramirez and/or to pursue Masahiro Tanaka.
With the status of Kerhaw and manager Don Mattingly stabilized, however, the Dodgers have taken two major steps as Guggenheim continues to take care of its own house no matter how much unhappiness it creates in smaller markets or how much immediate abuse owner Mark Walter has to endure during the current owners' meetings where he will undoubtedly cross paths with Arte Moreno, who has suddenly been left with a little more to consider when it comes to the L.A. market and what to do now or in the near future about retaining his centerfielder on a longterm basis.