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Despite finish, Clayton Kershaw should come first for Dodgers this winter

Oct 19, 2013, 1:00 AM EDT

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After 36 starts and 255 stellar innings, Clayton Kershaw finally let the Dodgers down on Friday, giving up seven runs in three-plus innings in Game 6 loss to the Cardinals. The defense played a role, but Kershaw was the first to admit afterwards that he just wasn’t his usual self. Maybe it was a bad day. Perhaps that first ever start on three days’ last week played a role. Regardless, it simply wasn’t meant to be tonight. At least he can take some solace in the likelihood that the end result would have been the same had he merely allowed two or three runs.

Now, the free-spending Dodgers enter a winter with question marks at two infield spots. They have to sort out what they’re going to do with their four starting outfielders in Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. They’ll also have to decide whether to spend the money to add to a rotation that is sure to include Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu and is due to get back Josh Beckett (shoulder) for the opener and Chad Billingsley (elbow) in May.

But, most of all, the Dodgers need to make a deal with Kershaw, who is entering his final year of arbitration and who will be eligible for free agency next winter.

It shouldn’t be overly difficult, even though the deal will almost surely be the biggest ever for a pitcher. The market is already set after the Tigers gave Justin Verlander what amounted to a five-year, $140 million extension in March. It just remains to be seen whether Kershaw will hold out for $30 million per season or if he’ll settle for something in the $28 million range with an extra guaranteed season or two. Frankly, there’s no reason for him to take less than $30 million.

It will get done. The Dodgers have too much money to risk letting a $20 million-$30 million gap stand in the way of a deal. They’ll almost certainly have to pay more if they wait until he’s a free agent; both the Yankees and Red Sox should have plenty of flexibility next winter and they wouldn’t be the only ones willing to go $30 million and beyond.

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