Commentary

What is Clayton Kershaw worth, now?

How does Dodgers ownership put a price tag on memories like Monday's in L.A.?

Updated: April 2, 2013, 1:13 AM ET
By Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers were still whooping and high-fiving in the clubhouse about 15 minutes after their 4-0 win over the rival San Francisco Giants on Opening Day, when Matt Kemp saw Clayton Kershaw unlacing his cleats across the room and yelled, "Sign him!"

Seems like a good idea, doesn't it?

Days like Monday, in fact, make you think it would be practically sinful for the Dodgers to spend so much and even allow Kershaw a fleeting thought of free agency. Give him whatever he wants, right? Maybe a couple of hundred acres of Malibu beachfront? A movie studio? A spot in the mayoral runoff?

On Monday, Kershaw didn't just give a rollicking Dodger Stadium crowd its first Opening Day shutout since Fernando Valenzuela's in 1981, he gave it the only real thrill of the game. The Dodgers' hitters had a problem of their own to deal with -- Matt Cain.

So, an inning after Cain's pitch count dragged him out of the game, Kershaw saw a 92 mph fastball coming from reliever George Kontos and cracked it about 430 feet over the center-field wall.

It was Kershaw's first career home run, but hardly stunning. He does so many things well, including hit and field, which is part of why it's so difficult to quantify what he's worth to the Dodgers or any other team in baseball.

Justin Verlander signed a $180 million contract with the Detroit Tigers the other day. Kershaw is five years younger. Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers a few months ago for $147 million. Kershaw's Cy Young is a couple of years newer. Felix Hernandez signed for $175 million with the Seattle Mariners before spring training. Kershaw is more left-handed.

Kershaw brings so many things to the table, including the virtually zero chance he'd embarrass the organization. He and his wife spend parts of their winters helping build orphanages in Africa.

Put it all together and what is Kershaw worth?

The figure $200 million has been floating around for a while. OK, seems reasonable, especially if you don't happen to own a team outside a major metropolis. You could also argue it's too low, given Kershaw's age, 25, what his trajectory could be, and the Dodgers' nouveau wealth.

He's been compared to Sandy Koufax since he was in the minor leagues and, after Koufax threw out the ceremonial first pitch Monday, catcher A.J. Ellis said it "almost felt like a passing of the torch."

"To me, he's probably the best pitcher in baseball," said Adrian Gonzalez.

If Kershaw's contract feels like an urgent matter, it's really not. The Dodgers, who have spent nearly $700 million during the past 12 months, are going to keep Kershaw -- barring a wrinkle nobody can see. He is making $11 million this season and under club control, via arbitration, the following season.

Asked about the Kershaw talk before Monday's game, team president Stan Kasten declined comment, other than to crack, "So you're asking about our 2015 team?"

Kershaw said during spring training he wanted either to wrap up the money conversations before Opening Day or suspend them until after the season. When he was asked about it Monday, he said, "I'm not going to talk about it today."

His silence will raise the possibility he's willing to continue to talk. After all, is it really that distracting to check your cell phone for messages from your agent, especially during the eight out of 10 games you're not even playing in?

But that's Kershaw. He's so intent on keeping his focus as tight as the spin on one of his sliders, he acknowledged the crowd's demand for a curtain call by briefly walking up the clubhouse steps. Instead, he turned his attention in the dugout to Joaquin Arias, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.

"You've got to switch gears a little bit," Kershaw said. "You're excited. You want to take your teammates' high fives. But as soon as I sat down, I had to think about how to get three outs again."

He got them, and a newly energized fan base went nuts.

"It's one of those games where everyone's going to say they were at this game. Even though there were only 56,000 here, about 100,000 are going to say, 'I was at the Kershaw home run game,'" Ellis said.

If you're the Dodgers owners and you're trying to re-establish your fan base's trust, how much is a memory that might last a lifetime worth? With players like Kershaw, you have to work that into the equation.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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