By Jon Weisman
As much anxiety as Dodger fans might have felt about a contract extension for Clayton Kershaw being completed, the ace himself said he stayed rather calm.
“During the season, it’s always hard to think about that stuff,” Kershaw said on the phone from Texas with reporters. “I didn’t let myself think about it too much. Once the offseason started, I always kind of had the feeling it was going to work out.”
And work out it did — a seven-year deal that made him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. Kershaw admitted it was a little difficult to wrap his head around — and that he fully expected the size of his contract to be surpassed by another player in the future — but that it was “incredible” for him and his wife Ellen to have it resolved.
“Contracts and money are something that’s a little bit uncomfortable for me to talk about, but I realize what a term blessing it is — and at the same time a tremendous responsibility,” Kershaw said. “Our heads have been running with different things we can support with Kershaw’s Challenge.”
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Kershaw added that it made sense that the Dodgers would attend to outside acquisitions before settling in to hammer out this agreement.
“There’s never been a sense of urgency, because I was going to be in L.A. for the next year regardless,” he said. “I think (after other deals were done), it gave them and ourselves a chance to focus on it for a solid week or two, and I think that’s ultimately what made it happen.”
The pitcher said he wasn’t seeking a voice in player acquisitions, trusting the Dodger front office. He hadn’t been asked to recruit Japanese postee Masahiro Tanaka. But Kershaw, who turns 26 in March, said he was prepared for the added pressure that comes with the deal.
“I don’t think there’s a negative,” Kershaw said. “I think it’s how you look at it. Obviously, there’s gonna be a lot of expectations as it should be, if your salary’s out there and you’re one of the top players in the game, you’re gonna be expected to be one of the best players in the game. That’s fine with me. I look forward to those expectations and look forward to trying to live up to them.”
The disappointing finale to 2013 — a knockout punch by the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series — hasn’t been forgotten, but Kershaw said he doesn’t need it as added motivation.
“It definitely went wrong,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t a good start. Definitely not a good time for it, definitely feel pretty responsible for us ending our season. Definitely not a good feeling, and leaves a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth when that’s the last game of your season. I definitely don’t want that to happen again.”
After taking six weeks off from throwing following the end of the season, Kershaw began preparation for the 2014 campaign. He said he is not working on anything in particular (“I’m not gonna even say ‘changeup’ anymore, just because I say it every Spring Training and nothing ever changes”) but more focusing on health and consistency, day in and day out. He doesn’t expect any problems from an offseason shortened by a lengthy Dodger playoff run and an early trip to Australia for the Opening Series with Arizona.
In general, Kershaw indicated that he tends to take the long view, which is one reason why a seven-year deal (with an opt-out clause after five years) was just right for him.
“I think that length of the contract we decided on was important to Ellen and me, and specifically the opt-out was important, too,” Kershaw said. “I always want to be able to see the end and always want to be able to pitch at a very high level. Anything longer than that, I would have been a bit overwhelmed trying to live up to the obligations of that contract.”
His appreciation for the Dodgers’ faith in him was unmistakable.
“First and foremost,” Kershaw said, “what an amazing gift for Ellen and I, and how thankful we are to the Dodgers that they believe in us so much. It’s a very humbling thing, to have the support. … We’re just excited honestly to be in L.A. for a long time.”