You knew it was only a matter of time before Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw signed the biggest contract in average annual value in major-league history. Will the best pitcher in the majors rest somewhat on his laurels in 2014 now that he's filthy rich and has long-term security or will he continue to dominate hitters? Let's examine a few props on Kershaw's upcoming season courtesy of Bovada.
It's always questionable to give a huge contract to a starting pitcher. They are only out there every fifth day and one twinge in that pitching elbow or shoulder can derail a career. Ask the Cubs about their former young phenom Mark Prior.
However, if there's one safe bet right now for a pitcher it's likely Kershaw. To keep him from becoming a free agent after the upcoming season, the Dodgers, who are swimming in money with a new local TV deal, gave Kershaw a seven-year, $215 million deal. It's the biggest overall deal for a pitcher in big-league history and Kershaw is the first player to exceed an average of $30 million a season. Kershaw's $30.7 million average probably is broken in a year or two by Angels outfielder Mike Trout, but that's a story for another day.
It could be a smart deal for the Dodgers because there was talk Kershaw would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years and $300 million. This way, the Dodgers save potentially $90 million in total value, and Kershaw can opt out after five years and become a free agent at age 30. If he keeps pitching like he has been, that's a lock. L.A. has locked up Kershaw's presumed prime seasons.
Cy Young Favorite
Certainly when the MLB season props come out this spring, Kershaw will be the heavy favorite to win a third NL Cy Young in the past four seasons. In winning the award last year, Kershaw was 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA that led baseball by a mile (his WHIP of 0.92 also led MLB); second in ERA was Florida rookie Jose Fernandez at 2.19. Kershaw's wins were down because the Dodgers struggled most of the first half of the season -- they were still five games under .500 and last in the NL West on July 1 before taking off. He also led all pitchers with 10 starts of at least seven shutout innings and all NL hurlers with 232 strikeouts.
In his 2011 Cy Young season, Kershaw was 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA that also led baseball (he was second in WHIP that season at 0.98 behind AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander's 0.92). In 2012, Kershaw "struggled" to a 14-9 record with a 2.53 ERA that also led MLB, just edging Tampa Bay's David Price (2.56). New York's R.A. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young that year, finishing 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA. Kershaw was second.
The MLB odds at Bovada lists Kershaw at +300 to win the 2014 Cy Young and -500 to miss out. Honestly, who can beat this guy? The Marlins' Fernandez had a near-historic rookie season and was third in the Cy Young voting while winning NL Rookie of the Year, but Miami is going to be terrible again, and the term sophomore slump is a cliche' because it's generally true. The Mets' Matt Harvey, who finished second in WHIP to Kershaw last season and started for the NL in the All-Star Game, looks like a future Cy Young winner but will miss the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery. Kershaw's top competition probably comes from Washington's Stephen Strasburg, who still hasn't proven he can avoid injury, or St. Louis' Adam Wainwright, who will be 33 in August. He was a distant second to Kershaw last season and the only reason Kershaw wasn't a unanimous choice as Wainwright got one first-place vote.
Bovada also lists Kershaw at +400 to have baseball's lowest ERA for a fourth straight season and -700 not to. Needless to say, that's going to be tough. The last pitcher to lead the league in ERA four straight years was a guy Kershaw is often compared to, Dodgers lefty Sandy Koufax from 1962-66. The Braves' Greg Maddux led the league from 1993-96 but finished a distant second to the Marlins' Kevin Brown in 1996.
Finally, Kershaw is given an over/under wins total of 16.5, with both at -115. L.A. looks loaded this season, with perhaps the only question at second base. If Matt Kemp can stay healthy, L.A. is embarrassingly deep in the outfield (if they don't trade one). The bullpen should be excellent so there shouldn't be many blown saves behind Kershaw. It looks like a 100-win club.
Free MLB picks: Kershaw over 16.5 wins and yes on the Cy Young. He will be edged out for the ERA crown, however.