1/16/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Kershaw offers so much, he's worth the time and money
From the diamond to the clubhouse to the community, ace lefty a wonder for Dodgers
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
Every once in a while a guy comes along who seems too good to be true. That's how it is with Clayton Kershaw. He's the best pitcher in baseball. Let's begin there. While there's so much more, this is where it all begins.
Kershaw has led the Major Leagues in ERA for three straight seasons and has averaged 225 innings and 230 strikeouts since 2010. He's only 25 years old, and while his velocity has dropped some, his curveball has gotten better and better. His slider and change-up are both above-average pitches.
Nothing is certain, but his mechanics, release point and ease of delivery suggest that he's likely to pitch at a high level for a long time.
Some will point out that it's insane to pay a pitcher $30 million a year when he's only a factor every fifth day. That's not how it works. Kershaw leads the National League in innings (697), quality starts (77) and complete games (10) over the past three seasons.
Those numbers tell you that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can be comfortable going deeper into his bullpen the day before Kershaw pitches. He's also more likely to have a rested pen the day after.
Other starters feed off the No. 1 guy. They also want to compete with him and learn from him, from his poise and approach and preparation. Every little thing matters.
So there's that.
Kershaw is also among the first to arrive at the ballpark every day. He drives himself to be the best he can be, whether it's by running wind sprints, lifting weights or studying video.
He has the type of personality that plays well over a long season. His confidence is a quiet confidence. His humility seems genuine.
He's involved in the community and in charitable work about the world. He seems to understand that he has been blessed and that his responsibility is to give back and to attempt to make the world a better place.
When teams throw huge dollars at free agents, there are unknowns. As Branch Rickey once said, you can't really know a player until you have him in your own clubhouse.
That's the ultimate tribute to Kershaw. The Dodgers know him better than any club in baseball, and they just made him the highest-paid pitcher in history with a deal worth $215 million over seven years.
As soon as word of the deal came out, his teammates took to social media to praise the signing. As Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis tweeted, "Big winner today......me. I am blessed to catch best in the game for foreseeable future God willing. Congrats Kersh!" And there was this from center fielder Matt Kemp: "Congrats 2 the best pitcher in baseball and great teammate."
For the Dodgers, it wasn't complicated. Good teams identify their core players and lock them up as quickly as possible. In doing so, the Dodgers are telling their players and fans that they take care of their own.
For the Dodgers to get this deal done is a reminder that this is a new era in Los Angeles. From the moment Mark Walter, Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten took over the franchise, they had a basic goal.
They wanted the Dodgers to be a model franchise. They wanted to win on the field and wanted to do it with compelling players, especially compelling homegrown players who fans could identify as their own.
They spent some money at the start for two reasons. One was to win immediately. Another was to let the fans know that the Dodgers were under new management and that corners would not be cut if it impacted winning.
From having a competitive team to upgrading one of baseball's most beautiful venues, Dodger Stadium, the new owners believe they're on the way to restoring the luster to one of the game's crown-jewel franchises.
Kasten will tell you these past 18 months has been the most fun he has ever had in professional sports. In effect, Walter gave him a blank canvas and asked him to do things right.
The Dodgers have had a relatively quiet offseason, with most of the emphasis on giving Mattingly job security and on locking up baseball's best pitcher.
They could still make a splash by signing Masahiro Tanaka, the best available pitcher on the market. But they needed to sign their own 25-year-old ace before pursuing the 25-year-old from Japan.
That's a story for another day. This one is about Clayton Kershaw and about the Dodgers putting another building block in place. So rejoice, Dodgers fans, this one's for you. Enjoy the ride.