THE CASE FOR TRADING CLAYTON KERSHAW

Photo courtesy of MLB.com.

Last week I wrote an article about what I think that the Los Angeles Dodgers should do based on how their season has been going. I decided to focus on one particular issue: Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has the chance to opt out of his contract at the end of this season, and if he does so he will most certainly be the best starting pitcher available.

Kershaw has been amazing during his career, which was spent exclusively with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, at least during the regular season.

Kershaw’s career stats:

G: 299

IP: 1979

Wins: 145

Losses: 68

ERA: 2.37

FIP: 2.67

K/9: 9.86

Strikeouts: 2168

It’s not the same in the playoffs however:

G: 24

IP: 122.0

Wins: 7

Losses: 7

ERA: 4.35

Strikeouts: 139

His Fastball velocity is on a downward spiral:

2015: 94.3

2016: 93.7

2017: 93.1

2018: 91.9

His K/9 are in decline as well:

2015: 11.64

2016: 10.39

2017: 10.39

2018: 9.82

In other words he seems to already be in decline.

The Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs and won their division annually since 2013, but came away with no championships and only one pennant. I don’t think that their current core is good enough to win a championship or that he’s able to push them through as a “clutch” playoffs performer. As I said before Kershaw can opt out of his contract at the end of this season, and upon doing so will almost certainly expect over $30 million per year for the next 7-8 years. He will be 30 years old when signing that contract.

There are multiple options at their disposal:

1. Do nothing until he opts out and then try to re-sign him.

2. Do nothing until he opts out and then let him leave.

3. Trade him at the trading deadline.

Let’s look at these options more closely:

Option #1 means that they’re giving a potentially record-breaking contract to a player who is no longer durable and that seemingly is in decline. I think that it’s pretty obviously a mistake. Baseball is ultimately a business and despite how honorable it is to be loyal, a bad investment is a bad investment.

Option #2 is a potential consequence of option #1 and isn’t much better. While they avoid giving out a bad contract, they end up losing him for a lottery ticket (draft pick) in return.

Option #3 is the right one in my opinion. They’re not going to the playoffs this year, there are just too many injuries and declines to overcome. Giving him a massive new contract is a bad investment, and if they move on from him they need a lot in return. Option #3 is the way to go. If Kershaw is healthy, then unless he’s pitching surprisingly bad he will have a lot of value. His contract will be an issue but how many contending teams will really pass up on acquiring Clayton Kershaw for the stretch run?

Which option do you think they should take? Let me know in the comments. Also feel free to ask me questions and follow me on Twitter @NeilfromNYC

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25 comments

  • Lifelong Dodger fan and I agree 100% if he does not have a no trade clause. Don’t know the answer but if he opts out we have to let him walk. He is not a guy we can count on at that $$$ hat is better spent on Machado or Harper and bring in the young pitchers Urias and Bueller.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that you agree especially being a lifelong fan. He actually doesn’t have a no trade clause so his salary and health would be the only roadblocks to a trade. I think that Harper especially would be a great fit with Puig hitting free agency at the same time.

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      • He doesn’t have a no-trade clause in his contract, but he’s pretty close to having (if he doesn’t already have) 10 & 5 rights, which would give him full no-trade protection.

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      • That could be an issue. Kershaw is from Dallas, and I remember that there were rumors that he might be interested in playing in Texas at some point.

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  • I have to respectfully disagree about the Dodgers making the postseason as this was a 100+ win team even during spring training and the injuries they’ve sustained aren’t going to continue that much longer(I believe). Justin Turner is due back very soon and Kershaw shouldn’t be out too long, same with Puig. Also, the Diamondbacks don’t have the starting pitching depth to sustain the success they’ve had so far.

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    • I respect your argument and you made very good points. I would also add that they had a bad start last year too and were even in third place until they turned things around. That said, I just don’t see it. Seager was a big part of the team and Turner’s power is probably going to decline due to his injury. I also don’t see Puig turning things around or for Taylor to repeat last season. Second base is a hole, Buehler is on an innings limit, Kemp will cool down… I don’t mean to sound so negative and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made the playoffs, after all they’re an experienced veteran team, I just don’t see it.

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  • Branch Rickey would fully support your decision to trade Kershaw, nor can I disagree with it regardless of how much I have enjoyed Kershaw being a Dodger. There are two other points to add to the equation. First, as evidenced by last winter’s free agency, the value of baseball contracts have crested and now face downward pressure. The dramatic revenue enhancement from television contracts, which allowed the owners to pay these big salaries, is set to decline. TV subscribers cutting the cable/satellite cord is having a huge effect on professional sports in general. Plus all of the owners have either experienced or seen other teams burdened with expensive contracts given to players over 30. Too many have been bad investments and Dodgers were especially burned with many “bad” contracts. They are taking a different path, finally. No player is worth $35 million a year given the salary cap and baseball finances. Baseball is rediscovering that it is best to build teams by investing in prospects and development; not free agents. Secondly, and the main reason why I don’t think the Dodgers will trade Kershaw, is the fan reaction would be very negative. The front office has to factor in fan emotion in addition to business logic. The consequences of trading a franchise player are severe. Trading Mike Piazza hurt the franchise. Also, trading Kershaw would clearly be giving up on the season. Attendance and related sales would take a hit, lasting beyond the 2018 season. I don’t think the Dodgers will do it. But if Kershaw opts out of his final two years because $35 million isn’t enough (and why would any team agree to a unilateral player opt-out anyway), the Dodgers should say “thanks for the memories.” I doubt he will get the kind of deal that was available a few years ago.

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    • Thank you for the comment. You are very knowledgeable on the subject. I agree salaries have to come down and while it’s the right thing to do, most likely they will end up losing Kershaw for nothing. The best case scenario for them is actually a big losing streak so the fans can see that they have no chance at the playoffs. Following that (and I admit that this is manipulative), they should offer him an extension for a lot less than he would expect. After he rejects it (or to discuss it during the season), they can shop him and trade him while announcing to the fans how he wanted too much money and how they tried to keep him, and how good the prospects are.

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      • Congratulations, Neil. It looks like you have everyone on board with the logic of trading Kershaw, so fan emotion is not ruling the day. I can see the Dodgers offering Kershaw an extra year or two at a reduced rate, supported by incentives. The situation reminds me of the Zack Greinke free agency. The Dodgers made an offer that I thought was too long and too pricey. I was so glad when I heard that he didn’t sign with either the Dodgers or the Giants.

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      • Thank you! I’m definitely glad to see that, as I was worried that it would receive a negative reaction from the diehard fans. I was looking it from the Dodgers’ perspective and it just made sense to me. I think that offering him an extra year or two makes sense, but he almost certainly will be looking for a 6-7 year deal. I thought that the Greinke contract was horrible for Arizona and still do. The Dodgers dodged a bullet there.

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  • I’m also a lifelong Dodger fan and as much as it pains me to say this I feel this may be the time to make a move and trade Clayton. Could it come back to bite us yes but taking everything into consideration that you mentioned it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. I feel the players coming back would be substantial or you don’t make the trade. I fee that Walker Buehler is ready to step up full time and I still think Julio Urias is going to be a good young pitcher long term. The Dodgers are fortunate to have these young pitchers coming up through the system with more behind them. I have no idea what the return would be but I’d love to hear what you think it might be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the comment and I’m glad that you agree! I’m also glad that as a lifelong fan you’re logical and understand that as important as he’s been to the team, trading him will ultimately benefit them more. As far as the return goes, considering how for years he’s been widely considered the best starting pitcher in baseball, and how currently he’s still in the top 5, they can reasonably ask for 2 of the team’s top 10 prospects while also offering to pay most of his salary for this season.

      Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson or Hudson and Ryan Helsley from St. Louis.

      Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams or Albert Abreu from the New York Yankees.

      Erick Fedde and Carter Kieboom or Erick Fedde and Juan Soto from Washington.

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    • I would also expect a “throw-in” lottery ticket type of prospect.

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  • Interesting idea that I haven’t seen anywhere else. As a lifelong Dodger fan, emotionally I have a hard time with it, but logically it makes some sense. OK, put on your GM hat and try to figure out a couple of potential trades. Where would they trade him and what could they get in return?

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    • I 100% sympathize with any fan who has to deal with a longtime face of the team getting traded. Especially when that fan spent their whole life rooting for the team. Back when I was a kid this exact thing made me stop watching basketball.

      Anyway, considering Kershaw is in the top 3-5 best starters; would have to be healthy and pitching as he did so far this season (obviously there’s no trade if he’s on the DL or suddenly pitching horribly which I don’t think is possible at all); would be traded to a contending team that will be competing with others for him; and that LA can offer to pay most of Kershaw’s salary this season to maximize the prospect return, we can reasonably expect a team to have to give up 2 of their top prospects.

      Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson or Ryan Helsley from St. Louis.

      Juan Soto and Erick Fedde from Washington.

      Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams from the New York Yankees.

      I think that each is a reasonable expectation.

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    • I would also expect a “throw-in” lottery ticket type of prospect.

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  • Emotionally I hate this idea but if the Dodgers are still sucking at the deadline the logic is hard to deny. But the idea of Kershaw winning a ring with another team is almost too much to bear. Net-net this is a call that gets made closer to deadline. Its not out of the question that they get back on track an finish strong for the wildcard or better. But that needs to start before the deadline to make any sort of bet on it.

    Curious – you think there is any world in which Kershaw decides not to opt-out?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can definitely relate to how hard it would be to deal with. I’m also not ruling out them turning things around and ending up in the playoffs, similar to the New York Mets in 2016. I just don’t think it’s likely. As far as Kershaw not opting out, I can see three scenarios where he does not:

      1. He pitches poorly after his return, to the point where he’s not even an ace by the end of the season. Obviously he doesn’t opt out in this scenario. This is highly unlikely however as I don’t see him pitching that poorly.

      2. His current mild elbow injury turns into something worse, or he comes back and then gets injured again and misses significant time. In this case there’s a good chance teams will be wary of giving him a long term deal so he might decide not to opt out.

      3. After what happened last offseason, he may choose to stay put. Also if he’s very loyal to the team and decides not to risk being forced to leave. Unfortunately it’s unlikely that his market would be that bad and he might opt out to receive a longer deal with LA. This happened CC Sabathia opted out of his contract with New York.

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  • Emotionally I hate this idea but if the Dodgers are still sucking at the deadline the logic is hard to deny. But the idea of Kershaw winning a ring with another team is almost too much to bear. Net-net this is a call that gets made closer to deadline. Its not out of the question that they get back on track an finish strong for the wildcard or better. But that needs to start before the deadline to make any sort of bet on it.

    Curious – you think there is any world in which Kershaw decides not to opt-out? Can he do this before season end to forestall this sort of move?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Another lifelong Dodger fan here. I honestly was lobbying for us to trade him when Mattingly finally left. Why? Because, in sports winning is as much about leadership of the star players as it is their ability. In 2015, I unfortunately saw that Kershaw is ineffective as a clubhouse leader. There always will be people, who never played sports on a college or pro level, who can never understand this crucial concept. Think of it like this. Chase Utley is venerated as a clubhouse guy. But it actually worked far better when he still had Baseball superstar talent. He has the ring to prove it. Kershaw is not a leader.

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    • That’s a very intriguing opinion. Is it possible that the lack of a clubhouse leader cost LA in the playoffs? I think that clubhouse leadership is very underrated, and it would make sense as to why LA kept coming up short in the playoffs. I was sure that they would win the World Series last year and we can’t blame it all on Yu Darvish. What happened in 2015 in particular that you noticed? I’m really curious. I think that if they had the 2008-2010 version of Utley, they would’ve won the pennant in 2015 and the World Series last year.

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    • I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your opinion but how do you figure Kershaw isn’t a clubhouse leader, or maybe I should ask what you feel a leader should do that CK doesn’t do. I see both Utley and Kershaw leading by example in that they do everything they can to give themselves an edge both in training and during a game. They both seem willing to offer advice when asked but don’t seem to go out of their way to approach someone and tell them what they’re doing wrong or could do better. Or do you feel it mostly involves speaking up in which case Kenley is certainly a leader and apparently so is Turner. So is it just a matter of personality combined with over the top performance?

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  • You know bud, it is admittedly a very subtle thing. There are very vocal Ray Lewis, Kirk Gibson types….there are jovial Steve Garvey/Ron Cey types….Orel in his day was a leader also. Apparently Roy Campenella was hard on his guys (Tom Brady)….Mickey Mantle just partied with his guys…but my friends, results speak for themselves. Even Barry Bonds got it done and he is a truly terrible person. Whatever elusive, Tom Berenger-in-Major League quality it is….Kersh does NOT have it.

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  • It is difficult to proclaim a label to any player as to an inherent ability to lead others. The players on the Dodgers team tend to be playingwith a very high level of team chemistry at one moment, while vacillating later at another level. There seems to be a sense of urgency folliwed by a sense of this, too, will pass. A team’s success is often determined by the composite level of maturation. Attitude minus injuries is paramount to domination and affects in any path of life. Baseball only exemplifies the importance of

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is an interesting view. I do think that psychological mindset and attitude plays a bigger part in sports and in life in general. For example home field advantage only matters due to attitude.

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