Kershaw's value goes beyond record deal
Dodgers laud ace's performance on and off field as $215M pact is announced
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw said he wasn't asked by the Dodgers to help recruit Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, which must be about the only thing they won't be asking of him for the next seven years.
The club made official Kershaw's record-breaking $215 million contract on Friday with a litany of superlatives befitting the best pitcher in the game.
General manager Ned Colletti said Kershaw "stands out above the rest." President Stan Kasten said Kershaw is so special, he "checks off all the boxes."
On the field, off the field, in the clubhouse and anywhere in the world Kershaw can make a difference is what the Dodgers have come to expect from their 25-year-old, two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, who insisted on -- and received -- an opt-out clause after five years.
Skeptics will argue that the clause will allow Kershaw to cash in on free agency at the age of 30. He had a different explanation.
"This is the deal [wife] Ellen and I always wanted," he said. "I want to be able to see the end and know I can pitch at a very high level. Anything longer I would be overwhelmed to put up to the expectations of that. I want to know I will be at my absolute best."
Kershaw now has the highest annual average salary in the game ($30.7 million) and the largest total package ever for a pitcher. The deal does not include a no-trade clause, but he can declare free agency one year after a trade.
Negotiations began last spring and resumed again in the summer, when Kershaw reportedly turned down a longer deal. He and club officials, however, said they were confident an agreement would be reached once the season ended and the sides could focus on business.
"There was never any urgency like -- get it done, or else," said Kasten, who said the club's risk is mitigated by disability insurance that was obtainable because Kershaw is 25 and has never been on the disabled list.
"A big factor was his age. We have that going for us," Kasten said. "I'd feel differently if the player was in the mid-30s than the mid-20s. But it's not foolproof. There are risks."
Without mentioning Justin Verlander by name, however, Colletti said it would have been tough to tell the best pitcher in the game "that we're not going to do what other teams did for other pitchers." Kershaw would have been eligible for salary arbitration in 2014 and free agency after.
Kershaw, who won the 2012 Robert Clemente Award for his and Ellen's charitable work, said he realizes the financial windfall is "a blessing and responsibility."
"To whom much is given, much is expected," he said. "There's an unlimited effect we can have on a lot of people with this money."
The Kershaws already have built an orphanage in the Republic of Zambia in East Africa that houses nine children, and they have built classrooms for their education.
"Now we have significant funds to maintain it forever," Kershaw said.
Kershaw's Challenge, his charitable foundation, raises and distributes money to charities in Los Angeles and his hometown of Dallas.
While Colletti and Kasten cited his character and generosity, he got the contract for his left arm. In addition to Cy Young Awards in 2013 and '11 and a runner-up finish in '12, Kershaw has three All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove Award. He has three straight ERA titles and is elbowing his name into the franchise record books alongside mentor Sandy Koufax.
One thing Kershaw still doesn't have is a World Series ring, the Dodgers' loss to St. Louis in the National League Championship Series last year is still a sore subject for Kershaw, who was hit hard in Game 6.
"It definitely went wrong," he said. "It was definitely not a good start, definitely not a good time, I definitely feel responsible for the season ending. I don't feel good, it leaves a bitter taste."
Which brings up Kershaw's role as team leader and, perhaps, a sounding board for management on matters such as improving the rotation with the addition of Tanaka. Kershaw, who shares the same agent as Tanaka, said he hasn't spoken with Tanaka, who must pick a Major League team by Jan. 24.
"That's not my job description," Kershaw said. "From what I hear, he's a great pitcher, and that definitely can never hurt. We'll see what happens."
Although management has downplayed its interest to this point, Colletti said he's been in touch with Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, all but one day this week.
Kershaw works near Hollywood, but he celebrated his contract signing like a Texan.
"I played ping pong with some buddies and we grilled burgers," he said. "That's about it."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.