After tossing around historic numbers for most of the past year, the Dodgers are finally set to make Clayton Kershaw the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.
Kershaw and the Dodgers reached agreement on a contract extension worth $215 million for the next seven years. The contract is the largest ever signed by a pitcher, topping Justin Verlander's seven-year, $180 million extension with the Detroit Tigers last spring. The average annual value of the deal makes Kershaw the first $30 million player in baseball history.
The contract reportedly includes an opt-out clause after five seasons, which could allow Kershaw to test free agency at age 30 if he desires. The Dodgers gave Zack Greinke on opt-out after three years when they signed him to a six-year, $147 million free-agent deal last winter that temporarily made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history.
Neither side has officially confirmed the deal, but team president and CEO Stan Kasten essentially did by releasing this statement Wednesday afternoon: "I am hopeful that by Friday morning we will have an announcement."
The agreement comes a day after Kershaw and agent Casey Close went through the formality of filing for salary arbitration. Kershaw is in the final year of arbitration eligibility and would have become a free agent next winter had the Dodgers been unable to lock him up to a multiyear deal.
Kershaw, who will be 26 in March, has two Cy Young Awards already under his belt. He is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball and one of its best citizens off the field, having won numerous awards for charity work.
The seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft, Kershaw made his major league debut less than two years later at age 20. In six seasons since, Kershaw has gone 77-46 with a 2.60 career ERA that is the lowest for any pitcher who has thrown at least 1,000 innings since 1901.
Kershaw is the 17th pitcher with multiple Cy Young Awards and only the fifth to have more than one before his 26th birthday, joining Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen, Roger Clemens and Tim Lincecum.
Last year, Kershaw went 16-9 and led the majors with a 1.83 ERA, becoming just the third pitcher since 1901 to lead the majors in ERA in three consecutive seasons. Greg Maddux did it in 1993-95 and Lefty Grove in 1929-31. Among pitchers with at least 220 innings, Kershaw's ERA was the lowest since Dwight Gooden posted a 1.53 ERA in 1985. Only two other pitchers this century have had an ERA under 2.00 -- Roger Clemens' 1.87 in 2005 and Pedro Martinez's 1.74 in 2000.
Kershaw also led the majors in WHIP (0.92) and the National League in strikeouts (232) while pitching a career-high 236 innings, second in the National League. His career WHIP (1.09) is the lowest among active pitchers.
The Kershaw extension virtually assures the Dodgers will have a $250 million payroll in 2014 -- the first year of a new local TV rights deal that could pay them as much as $8 billion over the next 25 years.
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