Chicago Cubs: If Clayton Kershaw opts out, a power shift ensues

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

If left-hander Clayton Kershaw opts out of the final two years of his deal next winter, the Chicago Cubs’ could be impacted by a drastic power shift.

For years, Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw has represented the best in Major League Baseball. He’s won three National League Cy Young Awards, one MVP and has made seven consecutive All-Star teams. And, come next winter, he could drastically impact the hierarchy of power in the NL – including the Chicago Cubs.

Kershaw, who turns 30 in March, has an opt-out clause in his contract at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Since the Dodgers took him with the seventh-overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, the lefty has been one of the game’s biggest stars. Would he really walk away from Southern California and the $70 million left on his deal?

In today’s market, he could – especially with almost every big-market team getting ready to spend next winter with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado headlining the best free agent class in recent memory.

At his age, Kershaw could feasibly go out and look to break the bank as far as free agent starting pitching deals go. If David Price netted a $31 million AAV from the Boston Red Sox, it’s hard telling just how high a deal for the future Hall of Famer would go. $40 million annually? I wouldn’t rule it out.

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Things could go all kinds of way for Chicago

Say the Cubs somehow miss out on landing that last coveted starting pitcher this offseason. Somehow, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb all sign elsewhere in the next month. That means they enter 2018 with the threesome of Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Jose Quintana.

Things could be much worse.

Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery would likely round out the staff as things stand. But at season’s end, Lester has just two years (with a third-year option) left on his deal. Could Kershaw be in-store if the team decides to stick with their current selection of outfielders?

Now that’s how you capitalize on your championship window.

In a best-of-five postseason series, no one wants to square off against Kershaw, Hendricks, Lester and Quintana. No one. And if Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Jason Heyward continue improving offensively (or if one of the first two break out in 2018), going after Bryce Harper seems like a much smaller priority than it does right now.

Other teams employing the same strategy

Harper’s current team, the Washington Nationals, could look to execute that same gameplan against the Cubs. They lose Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Matt Wieters and Daniel Murphy next offseason to free agency.

What does that mean? Over $60 million comes off the books in those players alone. Pairing Kershaw with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer for three years would do a lot to give the Nats an immediate shot in the arm – without crippling their finances. And they’re not alone in this. The Yankees need an ace – and could conceivably go for Kershaw, as well.

As excited as people are for the likes of Machado and Harper to hit the open market next winter, a Clayton Kershaw opt-out would turn everything on its head in a hurry. Without him, where do the Dodgers turn?

Money talks

Magic Johnson and his ownership group came one win from bringing a World Series title back to Chavez Ravine. Kershaw is as big a staple in Dodgers history as iconic left-hander Sandy Koufax (or at least he’s close). Letting him walk away – potentially to a rival in the National League – would prove catastrophic.

I’d be surprised if Kershaw even made it to the end of the season without a new mega-deal from the Dodgers. The risk is simply too great.

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But if he gets frustrated with the ‘chasing the title’ narrative in Southern California and sees numbers he likes, baseball could see one of its biggest pitching talents to move in years. And, thus, a quickly-changed pecking order in the National League.