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Monday, October 29, 2012
What to do about: keeping Clayton Kershaw

By Mark Saxon

It seems like a no-brainer. If there were no agents in the world, it might get done in a matter of weeks.

But the Dodgers have yet to begin talks with the representatives of Clayton Kershaw about locking up their young ace for years to come, general manager Ned Colletti told reporters Friday. Each month that goes by makes it more likely that Kershaw will leave as a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. Will those talks take place this winter?

"It's probably something we'll think about," Colletti said.

Why the tepid response? Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. Certainly Kershaw, 24, is the kind of young player you look to keep as long as possible. He's arguably the best pitcher in the National League, and his off-the-field reputation is as good as they come. He just became the youngest player to win the Roberto Clemente humanitarian award.

But players typically make far more money if they allow themselves to reach free agency. How many teams would be lining up to offer Felix Hernandez a $150 million-plus deal this winter if his service-time clock had continued to tick?

Instead, Hernandez is still under contract in Seattle for the next two years because -- at a point in his career identical to Kershaw's now -- he signed a five-year, $78 million contract in 2010. The Angels' Jered Weaver made a similar decision. Players give up dollars for the security of guaranteed money early and of staying where they grew up as players.

Kershaw's agents likely will advise him to fend off the Dodgers' attempts at an extension. He doesn't seem like the kind of player motivated by money, but his extensive charity work might convince him to maximize his finances to do more. Hard to argue with that.

To sign Kershaw long term right now also would carry some risk for the Dodgers. He had bouts of plantar fasciitis throughout the season. An impingement in his left hip surfaced late in the season. Both of those injuries can become debilitating and tend to be chronic.

There's no doubt the Dodgers will make a full-fledged push to lock up Kershaw as long as they can. They've been successful with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley, and two of those deals were completed when Frank McCourt was the owner. The new owners probably will be willing to spend whatever it takes to keep their ace.

But timing is everything in these kinds of talks. Perhaps they'll wait until midseason, reassuring themselves he can stay healthy. Maybe they'll wait until next fall, building their offer against what Kershaw figures to make in his final season of arbitration.
It's not as if the deadline is upon us, but the closer it gets, the scarier it becomes.