A tale of two pitchers: Clayton Kershaw and Brad Penny

On the same day the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Clayton Kershaw to a seven year, $215 million contract extension, the Kansas City Royals answered with signing veteran pitcher Brad Penny to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. I know that sounds funny, but when you compare the two pitchers and two teams, it makes sense.


Over seven years, $215 million averages out to $30.7 million per season, making Kershaw the highest paid pitcher in Major League history. Before the signing, the 25 year old Kershaw was arbitration eligible this season and a free agent in 2015. But now he could be a Dodger until 2020.

The Dodgers signed Kershaw seventh overall in the 2006 Amateur Draft. In his six year career with the Dodgers, Kershaw is a two-time Cy Young award winner in 2011 and 2013 with a second place finish in 2012. He’s a three-time All-Star from 2011-2013 and a Gold Glove winner in 2011. And he led the National League in ERA from 2011-2013.

Over his career, Kershaw has a 77-46 record with a 2.60 ERA with a 0.6 HR/9 and a 3.07 SO/BB ratio. Hitters have a .211 career average against Kershaw and he’s effective against left or right handed batters. For the last three years, Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

And the Dodgers can afford to pay him. With an over $220 million 2013 payroll and a $340 million local TV contract in one of the country’s largest markets, the Dodgers have a lot of money to spend. Kershaw’s contract will pay him less now and more later and there’s an opt-out clause after five years, so it’s possible he’ll be a free agent when he’s 30. Or a free agent when he’s 32 and maybe get another big contract, depending how he plays. Things are looking up for Clayton Kershaw.

Meanwhile, Brad Penny signs a minor league contract with the Royals. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the fifth round of the 1996 draft, Penny began his Major League career with the Florida Marlins in 2000 before being traded to the Dodgers in 2004. Penny played for the Dodgers from 2004 to 2008 and joined the Boston Red Sox in 2009. The Red Sox released him August of 2009 and he finished 2009 with the San Francisco Giants. From there, Penny played 2010 with the Cardinals, 2011 with the Detroit Tigers and a part of 2012 with the Giants. After 13 years in the Majors, Penny didn’t play last season so he could attempt a comeback in 2014.

Penny was a good pitcher, at least from 2000 to 2007. During that time Penny had an 88-66 record with a 3.90 ERA, an 0.8 HR/9 and a 2.27 SO/BB ratio. Hitters had a .263 average against Penny. He was an All-Star in 2006 and 2007 and finished third in the Cy Young voting in 2007. At 29 years old, Penny was on his way to a good Major League career.

But from 2008 to 2012, he was terrible. During that time Penny had a 31-34 record with a 5.16 ERA, a 1.1 HR/9 and a 1.61 SO/BB ratio. Hitters had a .315 average against him. At 34 years old and his career falling apart, Penny sat out the 2013 season before signing with the Royals.

The Royals hope Penny can be the starting pitcher he was from 2000 to 2007, especially if Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura have a rough season. But he’s going to need an exceptional spring training if there’s any chance of making the Major League roster. If not, Penny could end up in AAA Omaha, ask to be released and try his luck with another Major League team, or retire.

For the Royals, signing Penny is low-risk with a potential high reward. He might turn in a Ervin Santana like season and sign a reasonable contract with the Royals in 2015. Or he could flame out and be released by May. Either way, the Royals have nothing to lose by signing him.

Both the Dodgers and Royals want to win. And if you compare their records from last season (the Dodgers were 92-70 and the Royals were 86-76), the Royals won six less games than the Dodgers with a $79.5 million payroll. But the Dodgers made it to the NLCS and the Royals didn’t make the playoffs.

The Dodgers way to win is paying their players big salaries and signing top free agents. They can also invest lots of money in their farm system. The Royals way to win is with young, low cost players, signing their good core players to reasonable contracts, good trades, signing pitchers like Brad Penny and invest money in their farm system. They’re both good ways to win, but the Dodgers way of winning allows for more mistakes and setbacks. For the Royals, everything has to go right for them to win. It’s the reality of baseball these days and it’s why the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and the Royals have Brad Penny.

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