Clayton Kershaw's New Deal
Long-term deals have become all too common in the modern MLB. It’s easy to see the appeal—if a GM can lock down a perennial all-star, they would be foolish not to.
...or would they?
Let’s break down three of the biggest MLB free agent contracts in the last three years—three of the biggest ever, in fact.
The Machine (“I’m not a machine, I’m just Albert”) received a 10-year, $240 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels in December of 2011, and at the time the deal made sense. In Albert Pujols, we're talking a 9-time All Star who has accumulated a Rookie of the Year Award, 3 MVPs, 6 Silver Sluggers, 2 Gold Gloves, and probably a Nobel Prize somewhere in there too. He turns 34 today, and he already has the numbers that most players couldn’t dream about for their career. And yet…
Since 2009, it can be said that Pujols has been declining. Since that MVP season where he hit .327 with 47 jacks and 135 RBIs, each of those numbers have steadily tumbled. 2013 proved a low point for Pujols, where injuries forced an early end to a season that had seen him appear a mere mortal. Additionally his BB% and K% are trending in the wrong direction. Last season left many wondering if his mammoth contract was ill-conceived, as it is in fact back-loaded (he gets paid more money in the latter years than in the first few).
In my opinion he stands as a dark reminder of the dangers of long-term contracts, especially for players on the verge of turning 30. A strict no-trade clause and a back-loaded contract could spell disaster for the Halos should Pujols continue to decline into mere mediocrity. He is an example of the main flaw of a long-term deal—paying for past services rendered can be a deadly snakebite.
31-year-old Robinson Cano received a similar contract in December of 2013, receiving a 10-year, $240 million contract from the Mariners. The 5-time All Star has finished in the top 6 in MVP voting for the last four years, and has shown exceptional durability thus far in his career. Unlike Pujols, Cano’s numbers have remained steady of late, as he has finished with at least a .300 batting average, 25 homers and 85 RBIs in each of the last 5 years. These numbers suggest that Cano is currently in his prime, and it would be tough to argue against that point, even if he is a couple years older than Pujols at the time of their megadeals.
However, let’s take a look at his deal more closely. Seattle has him locked up to make $24 million every year until 2024, when Cano will be 41. While there is no telling where Cano’s ceiling is, particularly given his durability, it is very difficult to imagine him still being worth $24 million after age 35 or so. While I recognize that in order to obtain Cano, such terms were deemed necessary, I believe that the Mariners will ultimately regret their decision unless, of course, Cano helps them win a World Series. The Yankees had the right idea, not wanting to give Cano any more than 7 years. But Cano has not yet given hints that a decline is imminent, so who is to say that he can’t be productive for another 10 years?
The richest contract ever doled out to a pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, aka “The Nightmare of the National League” (copyright on that nickname, tell your friends) received a 7-year, $215 million extension from the Dodgers just a couple days ago. Holy huge numbers, Batman. Why so big? Well he only has 2 Cy Youngs at the age of 25. He also finished 7th in MVP voting last year, has been a 3-time All Star already, and in terms of WAR is pacing with some of the all time greats like Clemens, Pedro and Seaver. The Dodgers may be paying a small fortune for Kershaw, but let’s be honest, he was going to get that money from someone. The man has started 30 games every year except his rookie season, where he still started 21, which is proof of his durability. He averages 219 innings per season, and 9.2 K/9. His career win-loss record isn’t particularly impressive, but a career ERA of 2.60 shows just how much wins and losses don't matter when understanding a pitcher's value.
This is a deal that makes sense. The Dodgers included an opt-out clause for Kershaw after 5 years, meaning he'll get another chance at a big pay day when he's 30, and the Dodgers will have harvested his best years. Kershaw is just reaching his prime, as he now has the experience of a veteran combined with the physical skills of a 25-year-old. He has the brightest future of any pitcher in the majors, and he shows no signs of slowing down. This is the how a long-term deal should be executed—locking up a young star for a reasonable amount of years. I think Kershaw can live up to the deal, and by the time his deal is done some other team will be willing to pay him even more money well into his 30s.
What do you think about long-term deals? I wanna know. Tweet me @Roto_Dubs.