Kershaw's contract with Dodgers shows Nats' current fortune

Kershaw's contract with Dodgers shows Nats' current fortune
January 21, 2014, 1:15 pm
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Last week the Los Angeles Dodgers signed two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to a seven-year, $215 million deal, the largest ever for a pitcher in baseball history. He’s the best starter in the game and was rewarded handsomely for it. He’s so good, in fact, the Dodgers have received little criticism since announcing the pact.

Kershaw, 25, has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball for five seasons now. He does not have a history of arm issues and has been consistently dominant. So far, his career looks like the beginning of one that will end up enshrined in Cooperstown.

But $30.71 million – Kershaw’s average annual value – is a lot for one player and, put in the context of the average team, is quite remarkable. For instance, Kershaw is paid about what the Nationals’ rotation will earn as a whole in 2014:

Kershaw AAV - $30.71M

Nats’ 2014 projected rotation

Stephen Strasburg - $3.975M
Gio Gonzalez - $8.5M
Jordan Zimmermann - $7.5M
Doug Fister – seeking $8.5M in arbitration
Ross Detwiler - $3M

Even if Fister gets the $8.5 million he’s asked for in arbitration – the Nats have countered by offering $5.5 million – the Nationals’ expected rotation will earn a total of $31.475 million. That’s less than a million more than Kershaw. Kershaw is better than anyone on the Nats’ staff, but their rotation overall is among the best in the game.

Kershaw’s deal stacks favorably against some teams' entire payrolls. Baseball reference projects the 2014 payrolls of the Marlins at $40.1 million and the Astros at $46.5 million. No other major professional sport can come close to that discrepancy between one player and entire teams.

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The Nationals will have to pay their own pitchers some day and next season will give them a glimpse of a more expensive future. Zimmermann is set to make $16.5 million in 2015, the final year of his contract. Then, many presume, he’ll receive a lucrative long-term deal, whether it’s in Washington or elsewhere. 

Next offseason Strasburg will be two years from free agency and could see a similar raise to what Zimmermann received this winter. His agent, Scott Boras, has thrown Kershaw-like numbers out there for the Nationals’ ace. Though he may not earn $30 million when his time comes, he could one day be among the highest paid pitchers in baseball.

If Kershaw’s deal teaches us anything, it’s that the Nationals are in a fortunate place right now. They have a strong rotation that is affordable and will be so for at least another season or two. 

It also shows, however, what the future could behold. The Nationals currently have a projected payroll of $130 million in 2014. That’s not outrageous, but it could appear small in a few years when the Nationals have to pay their own young stars.