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Is Clayton Kershaw’s contract a harbinger of things to come?

Jan 16, 2014, 9:23 AM EDT

Clayton Kershaw

After learning of Clayton Kershaw‘s seven-year, $215 million deal yesterday a lot of people started to speculate what his contract meant for other pitchers. Comments about how Max Scherzer and David Price were probably doing cartwheels. About how Jon Lester can start looking at higher-priced real estate. That sort of thing.

Obviously what one player makes has an effect on what other players make, but the specific nature and strength of that effect varies. Sometimes there’s a one-to-one kind of thing at work: Player A is getting $X million so Player B can now demand and expect to receive $X million too. Or $X million + $Y. Or $X million over a longer period of years. Larry Granillo looked into highest-paid players by year a couple of years ago and, for the most part, you see incremental change. Top-paid players go up by a million or so in average annual value and, in many instances, the next guy got his contract specifically because the previous guy got his and the idea was to top him.

But it’s not always that way. Once in a while the player who got the big contract is an outlier and the comps are nowhere near as perfect.

A great example of this is Alex Rodriguez. His first $250 million deal with Texas came in 2001. He was a 24 year-old Gold Glove shortstop who hit homers like a first baseman. He was a perfect storm of talent and youth and marketability (at the time anyway) and his deal was leaps and bounds above the last guy’s big deal. Yes, it helped that Tom Hicks bid against himself to inflate A-Rod’s deal, but there’s no escaping the fact that Rodriguez represented a rare and unusual commodity who reached his peak negotiating leverage at the perfect time. And it took over a decade for players to catch up with him in average annual value.

I feel like Kershaw is more like A-Rod in this respect than not. He’s considerably younger and more accomplished than Price, Lester or Scherzer. He also had the good fortune of playing for a team with more money than anyone at a time when there is more urgency for teams to keep the players they’ve drafted and grown themselves due to the lower quality of players who actually reach free agency, the qualifying offer and things like that.

Yes, Clayton Kershaw is the tide that will lift those other guys’ boats, but I don’t believe he’ll lift it quite as strongly as some may expect.┬áMy guess: Kershaw remains the highest paid player, by annual average value, for several years and that no one comes particularly close to him for a good while.

And then Mike Trout‘s big deal will blow his out of the water.

  1. jarathen - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:27 AM

    Angels fan who is now wondering how big Trout’s contract is going to be now. I mean, I think the thought may have been $300 million over ten, but at the rate of current contracts, would it be smart for him to refuse the open market until he’s 32/33, or do something that has him out there before 30? Then he could cash in major again.

    The Angels should break the bank for this kid either way. Us fans have never seen someone this unholy in Anaheim. I don’t think I’ll ever see a better Angel; I hope he stays until he can no longer physically walk to the batter’s box.

    • 78mu - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      Tim Kurkjian called him Mickey Mantle reborn this morning and it’s hard to disagree.

      The Angels had better hope that Trout doesn’t get hurt the way Mantle did. I presume they have made sure that he can’t catch his cleats in the sprinkler system.

      • jarathen - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:00 AM

        No, he just jumps atop treadmills for kicks. nothing bad could ever come from that.

      • Glenn - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:22 PM

        Can you imagine if Mantle didn’t get hurt when so young and before better knee surgery? What if he worked out instead of womanizing and drinking? What if he did PEDs? I hate Barry Bonds, but when he was on steroids, he was the closest thing we will ever see to a super hero in sports. If he saw a strike, he hit it out of the park. I hate what PEDs have done to baseball, but Barry Bonds was incredible on them. Mantle did super hero things injured and hungover.

    • raysfan1 - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      Angels, unholy…hmmm

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      The longer we get to wear those Trout hats, the better.

  2. cubbybeers41 - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    For Trout, I could realistically see a 7 years at $275 million. I know that’s almost 40 million/year, but the kid deserves it. Based on other contracts $6million/1war, Trout would hypothetically get $60million/year, but that will never happen.

    • autmorsautlibertas - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      The only way he gets anywhere near 40 million is if he does not sign long term with the Angels and hits free agency. If his performance level remains high, the Yankees, the Dodgers, maybe the Cubs and the Red Sox will help ratchet the price up.

      • mornelithe - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:52 AM

        Maybe the other 3 teams, but I think for the foreseeable future, huge contracts aren’t going to be something the Red Sox will be going after. Even though the Dodger’s bailed them out, their last ones weren’t so great, and the smaller moves last off-season seemed to work well for them.

      • mornelithe - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:53 AM

        Plus, their farm system is pretty dang deep as well.

      • pastabelly - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        I think it’s mainly Yankees and Dodgers. The Red Sox don’t do business that way anymore and I anticipate that Bogearts could be wearing pinstripes the same as Ellsbury when the arbitration years are over. Boras is his agent and that leaves six more years in Boston.

      • mornelithe - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:22 AM

        If it happens, it happens. It’ll still give the Sox 6 solid years of a pretty exciting prospect, and 6 years to groom replacements, they’ve got numerous MLB ready prospects in the minors who they can either use next year or trade. So, provided they don’t do anything stupid (fingers crossed), they should be in decent shape for awhile.

    • jarathen - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      I could see that. Trout has to be thinking of at least two contracts; one that gobbles up arb years and maybe one or two after, and one that serves as his roughly 29-39 contracts if he can get them. I would have loved a 20/500 deal just to keep him in Anaheim, but with the way contracts are going, contracts may be even beyond that in ten years.

  3. gothapotamus90210 - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:45 AM

    Trout is hard to compare right now since he’s still a year away from arbitration. I would imagine the Angels won’t try to extend him until after the 2014 season at the earliest. While he projects to have a bright future, I’m sure they’re willing to pay an additional premium to get another year to add to Trout’s sample size.

  4. bfunk1978 - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    Trout is already a 10-win player and teams are paying (right now) so just look at what other big FAs this offseason got on a per-win basis. Jhonny Peralta is getting around 4M per year for each bref WAR he had last year. Robinson Cano is getting roughly the same. How much does that go up in the next 3 years? How many wins is Trout worth in 2016? If the market seems to be 5M per win and he’s a 12 win player in 3 years, then is 60M/yr out of the question?

    • jarathen - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:01 AM

      I think it is because no one gives contracts that way (in both directions), but I don’t think a contract that ends up around $35 mill per year is impossible.

      • bfunk1978 - Jan 16, 2014 at 11:04 AM

        You’re probably right, I’m just doing some math and was a little shocked.

  5. favrewillplay4ever - Jan 16, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    No way traut gets 40 million. Any team would be better off signing two all star 20 million players. This lessens the damage done if there is a severe injury. Though you never want to see an injury, they do happen. With traut’s aggressive play style, fans love it, and so do coaches but there is injury risk.

    Would you rather have one of your $20 million players playing and the other out or have your $40 million guy on the DL potentially long term?

    • jm91rs - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:29 AM

      When Trout is a free agent, a $20 mil/year player won’t be the superstar level that it is today. I do think you won’t see him at $40, just because it will only take $31 mil to make him the highest paid player in the game.

  6. jm91rs - Jan 16, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    Trout can really take the 2 mega contract approach similar to A-Rod and Kershaw by getting an opt out clause. I really think that’s the key.
    Also, I suspect Trout is really gonna take it to the Angels when he’s able to after they decided not to give him much of a raise last year. It’s their right to do so, but it’s his right to say “hey guys, remember when you gave me the minimum raise after my near MVP rookie year? I want that money back on this next deal”

  7. jfk69 - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    The only way these salaries are being paid is through the TV/CABLE money. In effect that is you, JOHN Q PUBLIC. Remember the pendulum swings both ways. Baseball and the fans soon forgot the strike. Even more so when buddy boy Seelig turned a blind eye to the steroid abuse when McGuire and Sosa put on the freak show and every paper and magazine was covering the game.
    I don’t know what the tipping point will be. Twenty dollar beers ,200 dollar bleacher seats,a total disrespect for the fans. But mark my words. It will happen. The sponsors will freak and the party will come crashing back to reality.

  8. jfk69 - Jan 16, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    Here is where it should start. Insurance companies just might start realizing that the premiums to cover these bloated contracts are too small.

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