The Los Angeles Dodgers announced Wednesday they had signed a contract extension with staff ace Clayton Kershaw valued at $215 million over seven seasons. At 25, Kershaw is already a two time Cy Young award winner (2011, ’13) and has led the league in ERA for the previous three seasons. According to Baseball Reference, among the pitchers most similar to Kershaw through age 25 are Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Pedro Martinez, and Roger Clemens.
However, to Dodgers fans of past and present the inevitable comparison to Sandy Koufax has been made. Koufax, who between 1961-’66 was one of the best pitchers the game would ever see, only earned $35,000 in 1963 when he won both the NL Cy Young and MVP awards according to the Bill James Historical Abstract. Even adjusted for inflation, Koufax’ salary that year only amounted to $266,582.19 in 2013 dollars according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In his short career, Kershaw has nearly equaled Koufax’ three Cy Young awards, but it will be difficult to match Koufax’ MVP award. It has become extremely rare for a pitcher to win the MVP award with only Justin Verlander accomplishing the feat in 2011 in recent history.
In terms of an investment by the Dodgers – one of baseball’s richest franchises – the risk of signing a pitcher long term is always there. They need look no further than their great rival – the Giants – for pitching contracts gone awry. Kershaw, having already posted three Koufax-like seasons, would only have 3 ‘great’ seasons left on a 7 year contract if the comparison were to hold. However, with the Dodgers needing to stay competitive to draw ratings to a new TV deal it was clear they needed to keep Kershaw in the mix for years to come.
In terms of hobby value, it has always been difficult for pitchers to amass what some call ‘hobby love’. In fact, the back-to-back Cy Young awards by Tim Lincecum in 2008-’09 and the aforementioned Verlander’s masterful 2011 MVP winning campaign did not result in massive hobby gains. In terms of image, Kershaw is well regarded for his charity – Kershaw’s Challenge – and was the recipient of the 2013 Branch Rickey Award.
Projecting pitcher statistics has become increasingly difficult as the prevalence of bullpens has resulted in fewer decisions awarded to starting pitchers over the past two decades. At 25, Kershaw has won 77 games. If he pitches an additional 15 seasons, stays healthy, and the Dodgers offense does their part – then Kershaw has a chance to average the 15 wins-per-season needed to reach the 300 win club. A World Series title, perfect game, and/or no hitter can also impact Kershaw’s value in positive manner. As with most pitchers, a perfect game or no hitter would result an exponential spike in sales in the hours following the event – as it did with Verlander during his two no hit performances.
Kershaw first appeared on the 2005 Upper Deck USA Baseball set when he was a member of the national team and while his ‘official’ rookie cards are dated 2008 when he first appeared in the major leagues, the most desirable of all Kershaw cards is his 2006 Bowman Chrome issue. Available in several parallel versions, an Orange refractor (#’d to 25) recently sold for $2,227, while a raw version brought $1,640. A Red refractor (#’d to 5) is currently listed on eBay for $8,500. For comparison, a 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax rookie sold for roughly the same price during the same time period.
Kershaw has an odd looking autograph that resembles hieroglyphics with dominant angular letters. While a player’s autograph legibility doesn’t always impact the value of a certified autograph card, collectors certainly prefer something neater.
Like all popular players of the era, Kershaw has a large quantity and variety of memorabilia and autograph cards. With Sandy Koufax joining the roster of stars signing cards for Topps, Koufax and Kershaw have appeared on a few autograph cards together, that have become increasingly popular as the two careers have paralleled. If Kershaw lives up to the big, new contract those dual autographs could be very valuable.
Below is a list of the hottest Kershaw cards currently on eBay.