2018 season could be an anxious one for Dodger fans

For Dodger fans old enough to remember, spring training 1966 was unquestionably the most anxious and uncomfortable in the (then) 83-year history of baseball’s most storied franchise.

Less than four months after winning their second World Series title in three years, Dodgers co-aces and eventual Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale refused to report for spring training at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida in 1966 due to salary disputes in an era when free agency did not yet exist. But after missing one month of spring training, the pair – and the Dodgers – finally settled on then unfathomable single-season contracts of $125,000 and $110,000 respectively.

“When the smoke had cleared, they stood together on the battlefield with $235,000 between them,” then Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi would later write. “And I stood there with a blood-stained cash box.”

But contrary to popular belief, at least at the time, Dodger fans and the media were not on the side of the two Dodgers aces. In fact, in a 2016 article by LA Times Dodgers beat writer Bill Shaikin, it was pointed out that an LA Limes headline during the holdout read “the flinging financiers [were pursuing] their double-barreled raid on the Dodger treasury.”

Ironically, two years later, MLB Player Association’s first-ever president Marvin Miller and Dick Moss, the first general counsel for the players’ union under Miller, would bring baseball’s inaugural collective bargaining agreement into play … and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even to this day there has never been a more feared righty-lefty combination than Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Between the two of them they pitched 89 complete games in a combined 495 starts. (AP photo)

Fast forward to 2014.

On January 14, 2014, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw signed a 7-year / $215 million contract extension with the Dodgers. But unlike his predecessors Koufax and Drysdale, Dodger fans were beyond elated that Guggenheim Baseball Management Group and then general manager Ned Colletti had given the then 26-year-old Dallas, Texas native and their 2006 first-round draft pick the largest contract in baseball history. Kershaw would reward them, his teammates, and Dodger fans with his second consecutive National League Cy Young award and won the 2014 NL MVP award to boot; this in addition to being named to his fourth of what is now seven consecutive NL All-Star teams and never finishing higher than fifth in the NL Cy Young voting between 2011 and the just-concluded 2017 season.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even though the extremely popular 6′-4″ / 228-pound left-hander still has three years remaining on his 7-year contract to the tune of $98 million, he can opt out of it after the 2018 season. And while it may seem incomprehensible that Kershaw would even consider doing so, it has happened before.

As every Dodger fan on the planet knows, former Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke did exactly that following the 2015 season, when he walked away from $71 million still guaranteed to him by the Dodgers for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Incomprehensible indeed.

Even though Zack Greinke hasn’t lived up to the expectations that Diamondbacks fans had of him since joining their team in 2016, Clayton Kershaw most certainly has for Dodger fans. (Photo credit – Ron Cervenka)

By opting out of his 6-year / $147 million contract with the Dodgers, Greinke received a guaranteed 6-year / $206.5 million contract from the Dbacks; this on top of the $64 million that the Dodgers had already paid him for the 2013 through 2015 seasons. In other words, the eccentric now 34-year-old Orlando, Florida native and former 2002 first-round draft pick (by the Kansas City Royals) had parlayed his Dodgers contract into what will end up being a combined 9-year / $270.5 million dollars when it expires after the 2021 season.

But Clayton Kershaw is not Zack Greinke, not by any stretch of the imagination. Whereas Greinke never so much as even hinted that he might waive his opt-out clause following the 2015 season, Kershaw has, on several occasions, made it known that he absolutely loves being a Dodger. That being said, he has not said anything of the sort for quite some time. And given the fact that Greinke and Kershaw are both clients of super agent Casey Close, and given the fact that Kershaw will only be 30 years old on March 19, he very well might.

From a pure business standpoint, the Dodgers would be foolish not to do everything within their power to keep Kershaw in a Dodgers uniform, should he indeed elect to opt out. I mean, let’s be honest here, he puts fannies in the seats not only at Dodger Stadium but at every stadium he pitches in every five days. And from a merchandising standpoint, heading into the 2017 season, Kershaw’s was the third leading jersey sold, behind only Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, following the Cubs first World Series title in 108 years.

Then again, there is zero doubt that every other MLB team would love nothing more than to sell Kershaw jerseys with their team logo on them as well.

Stay tuned…

 

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