We now live in a world in which a major league player will make more than $30 million per season.
Despite that remarkable fact, you won’t find many people around baseball who feel the Dodgers overpaid yesterday when they gave left-hander Clayton Kershaw a seven-year, $215 million deal, one that is far and away the richest contract for a pitcher in major league history. Kershaw’s average annual salary of $30.7 million is also the highest ever for any player, regardless of position.
Kershaw is the most dominant pitcher in the game today, and it’s not really that close. He’s won two Cy Youngs in the last three years (finishing second in the National League Cy Young Voting in 2012), has posted an ERA of 2.91 or below in five straight seasons and has made 30 or more starts in all five of those years.
He’ll also turn 26 in March, meaning that unlike many long-term deals for starting pitchers, the Dodgers are getting Kershaw in his prime during this contract.
One interesting piece of the deal Kershaw and the Dodgers agreed to yesterday is that the left-hander has an opt-out clause that he can exercise after the fifth year of his contract. That could allow him to hit the free agent market before his age 31 season, probably still very much in his prime, and another monster deal might be waiting for him.
Zimmermann’s situation is a bit different than Kershaw’s, because while Kershaw was set to become a free agent at the end of this upcoming season, the Nationals still control Zimmermann for two years. He’ll become a free agent at the end of the 2015 campaign, so the Nats don’t feel pressured to finalize a long-term deal with Zimmermann before the 2014 season begins.
As far as the contract itself, top starting pitchers love seeing other top starting pitchers land huge contracts. These deals are often negotiated in part on market value. If Pitcher X and Pitcher Y have fairly similar career numbers and Pitcher X landed a big-money contract last offseason, Picher Y’s agent can use that deal as a part of negotiations, saying his client is worth that same type of contract (or a bit more).
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, especially if Pitcher X’s team was viewed to have overpaid. But market value is important, and the more starting pitchers there are landing monster deals, the better it bodes for other starting pitchers.
All that said, Kershaw is in a league of his own right now. No offense to Zimmermann, but he clearly doesn’t match up with Kershaw from a performance standpoint at this point in his career. Heck, no one really does.
We know what Zimmermann, who will turn 28 in May, is capable of. We know that he can be one of the top starters in the National League and we know that when healthy, he’s one of the most consistent hurlers you’ll find.
As long as injuries don’t become a factor, Zimmermann will get a big-money contract eventually, either from the Nationals or from someone else. He’s got a good shot to eclipse the $100 million mark, and could send that number even higher if he doesn’t land a long-term deal this year and has a stellar 2014 season.
But Kershaw getting $30.7 million per year for seven years shouldn’t impact Zimmermann’s situation too much. Kershaw is the only one in the league capable of getting that type of deal, and I’m sure Zimmermann isn’t blind to that fact.