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Odds Say Kershaw Remains a Dodger in 2019, But Astros Have a Shot

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw warming up.
If Clayton Kershaw opts out of his contract with the Dodgers, could we actually see the best pitcher of his generation in a new uniform? Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) CC License.
  • Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
  • Sportsbooks have posted odds on where the three-time Cy Young winner will start the 2019 season. 
  • The incumbent Dodgers are the favorite, but the odds say the 30-year-old could return to his home state.  

Clayton Kershaw has about 48 hours left to exercise the opt out clause on his current contract.

Here are the important details:

  • Kershaw has two years left on his contract.
  • If he doesn’t opt out, he will earn $32 million in 2019 and $33 million in 2020.
  • If he does opt out, he will immediately become a free agent and can sign with any team, including a potential new deal with the Dodgers.

Odds on where Kershaw will start the 2019 season lists seven clubs.

Odds on Clayton Kershaw’s Team in 2019

Where will Clayton Kershaw play game 1 of the 2019 MLB Season? Odds
Los Angeles Dodgers -200
Houston Astros +375
Texas Rangers +450
Chicago Cubs +900
San Francisco Giants +900
New York Yankees +950
Cincinnati Reds +1800

Why are the Dodgers Huge Favorites?

The Dodgers opened at -150 and are now an even bigger favorite at -200. Why? Because it’s unlikely that Kershaw will opt out.

If Kershaw and his agent are being realistic, they will recognize that he’s not going to get $30 million-plus on the open market. He just isn’t the same pitcher he used to be.

This year, he recorded his worst ERA (2.73) and WHIP (1.043) since 2010 and his worst K/9 (8.6 ) since his rookie season in 2008. His velo has been down considerably since returning from biceps/back injuries midseason.

The injuries he suffered this year are part of a larger trend, as well, and he hasn’t pitched more than 175 innings since 2015. He turns 31 next March, which is not ancient in baseball years, but is certainly reason to think he won’t get his fastball back into the mid 90s.

On top of age and declining performance, Kershaw continued to struggle in the postseason this year. Yes, he had one great start in the NLDS against Atlanta (8.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER) and another in the NLCS against Milwaukee (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER). But those two gems were mixed in with three clunkers where he gave up a combined 20 hits, 5 walks, and 13 earned runs in just 14.0 innings, taking the loss in all three.

Making matters worse, two of his bad starts came in the World Series, and that’s the last image of Kershaw GMs will have in their mind entering the offseason.

His World Series duds might not make a difference if they were a one-off. But Kershaw’s career playoff ERA is now 4.32, nearly two full runs higher than his regular-season ERA (2.39).

Given that he’s pitched over 150 playoff innings, it’s hard to scream “small sample size” anymore and predict that he’ll regress to his mean going forward. Teams with serious World Series ambitions will be wary of his October track record.

Why are the Astros and Rangers Next?

If Kershaw does bet on himself, so to speak, and opt out of this current deal, the Astros and Rangers have the best odds to sign the 2014 MVP.

The reason for that is pretty simple: Kershaw is from Dallas.

Since the Rangers play in Dallas, you might expect them to have shorter odds than Houston, which is 240 miles away. However, the Rangers are in full-on rebuild mode and, postseason struggles aside, you can be sure that Kershaw wants to be back in the playoffs next year.

The Astros won 103 games last year and had the best run differential in all of baseball (+263) despite dealing with a rash of injuries.

Two of their own starting pitchers (Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel) are free agents. While Kershaw won’t enter 2019 as the prohibitive Cy Young favorite he’s been each of the last, oh, six years, he should still be a top-two starter capable of helping Houston back to the AL West title, so there could certainly be interest on the Houston side.

Plus, if there’s any coaching staff that will think it can turn Kershaw back into the best pitcher in baseball, it’s Houston’s. Just look at Justin Verlander’s stats since joining the team compared to his last four-plus seasons in Detroit.

Which Team is the Best Value Bet to Sign Kershaw?

At +350 (22.2% probability), there’s not much value in betting on the Astros. He’s probably going to stay in LA and there aren’t actually any concrete rumors linking him to Houston, as much as it would make sense on paper.

The smartest bet here is the Dodgers, and at -200 (66.7% probability), it’s a pretty small payout unless you’re willing to risk a big stake.

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