Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw eventually will get the Matt Kemp treatment.
Just not yet. And, as the Dodgers reduce payroll, don’t expect them to sign any major free agents, either.
With Kershaw, the question isn’t as much money as it is timing. The Dodgers, who reached agreement Monday with Kemp on an eight-year, $160 million contract, are not in as urgent a position with Kershaw. Kemp, 27, was one season away from free agency. Kershaw, 23, is under club control for three more years. From the Dodgers’ perspective, a long-term deal for Kershaw would need to be at least five years, enabling the club to buy out at least two years of free agency.
But Kershaw, a favorite for the NL Cy Young Award, might not be interested in such a deal at this early stage of his career. He could command a record salary for a first-time arbitration-eligible starting pitcher, ending up in the $7.5 million to $8 million range.
He also is on track to hit the open market at 26, at which point he might surpass CC Sabathia’s $24.4 million average salary, the highest ever awarded a free-agent pitcher.
Kershaw need only stay healthy to strike it rich — he was 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA last season and is 47-28 with a 2.88 ERA in his career.
As for Kemp, his new deal includes a salary of slightly more than $10 million for next season, according to a source. That figure represents a considerable savings for the Dodgers, who likely would have paid Kemp $13 million to $16 million in arbitration.
The team needs the short-term help — its payroll next season will be “well under” $100 million, down from $104.1 million at the start of ’11, sources said.
The reduction virtually ensures that the Dodgers will be unable to pursue the big free-agent first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
First baseman James Loney and right fielder Andre Ethier, however, remain likely to open the season with the club. Both are entering their final years of arbitration, but the Dodgers have budgeted for their returns.
HOUSTON FINALLY OPEN FOR BUSINESS?
At long last, this should be the week when the Houston Astros begin anew — emphasis on should.
Industry sources continue to say that Jim Crane will be approved as the Astros’ new owner this week, by vote of the league’s other 29 ownership groups. If and when Crane assumes control, Houston general manager Ed Wade can make decisions under a true organizational mandate for the first time in months.
“We thought we’d go through the draft with the sale still up in the air,” Wade said Tuesday — more than five months after the June draft. “Now we’re in November. Hopefully for everybody involved it gets to the finish line shortly.”
Even then, the Astros are unlikely to be big spenders this offseason. They probably will acquire a shortstop and add low-cost relief pitching. Wade said he plans to stick with 26-year-old Mark Melancon as his closer, and he was frank in explaining why: “The plan is for us to recognize that we’re rebuilding, to fill our needs with as many young players as we can.”
That’s one major reason the Astros are expected to move left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez, as long as the ownership transition occurs soon.
Another example: Wade said the corner outfield spots could include some combination of J.D. Martinez, J.B. Shuck, Jason Bourgeois, Brian Bogusevic and perhaps a couple minor-league free agents. That’s not exactly Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.
“From the standpoint of corner outfield, there are going to be guys out there, looking for opportunities,” Wade explained. “We’re pretty much the land of opportunity right now.”
One item on the long-term shopping list: The Astros will need a designated hitter if they join the American League for the 2013 season as expected.
Wade laughed when asked if he already has checked into the ’12-13 DH market. “No, not yet,” he said. “We’ll cross those bridges when we come to them — if we come to them.”
CHISOX: A SEASON OF TRANSITION?
The White Sox were encouraged by several of their younger players near the end of last season: third baseman Brent Morel, right fielder Dayan Viciedo, catcher Tyler Flowers and center fielder Alejandro De Aza.
Now, after 11 straight seasons of trying to contend under GM Ken Williams, the team finally seems ready to step back and retool.
Free-agent left-hander Mark Buehrle is likely to depart. Left-hander John Danks and right fielder Carlos Quentin, both of whom are eligible for free agency at the end of next season, could be traded for younger pieces.
The White Sox can’t completely rebuild due to multi-year obligations to several veterans, including outfielder Alex Rios and designated hitter Adam Dunn. But Williams, in his public comments, continues to indicate that the team could shift direction.
An influx of additional young talent would be helpful: The White Sox ranked 27th out of 30 in Baseball America’s organization talent rankings at the start of last season.
ATLANTA DOESN’T PLAN ON DRASTIC CHANGES
The aftermath of the Red Sox collapse has been so eventful, what with the Popeyes chicken revelation and departures of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona, that it’s easy to forget the Braves suffered through a humiliating September, too.
Now Atlanta general manager Frank Wren must decide whether major changes are in order — or if his team’s downfall can be traced to injuries to Brian McCann, Jair Jurrjens, and Tommy Hanson.
Wren is leaning toward the latter.
“We don’t think we need to, per se, blow it up,” he said Tuesday. “There were reasons for things, but we don’t want to overreact and get rid of good players.”
Martin Prado is one of those good players. He is available in the right deal. But the Braves also like his versatility; he plays second base, third base and left field. Prado’s ability to play third base is crucial, because Wren acknowledged Chipper Jones, who turns 40 in April, can’t be expected to play more than 130 games in 2012 because of his history of knee problems.
Speaking of Jones’ future, he is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, during which he will be paid a $13 million base salary. Jones is coming off a three-year span in which he posted an OPS of .814 while playing an average of 121 games.
Asked if he expects this to be Jones’ final season, Wren said, “Chipper and I had a real good conversation last week. He still enjoys playing, so we’ll see where that goes with him. That’s a decision he’d have to make. But what he did express is he still enjoys playing.”
JAYS KEEPING US GUESSING
The Blue Jays have interest in free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson, sources say. Alex Anthopoulos, the team’s general manager, took a scouting trip to Japan to evaluate star right-hander Yu Darvish, who is likely (but not certain) to be available through the posting system.
We know the Blue Jays would like to add a No. 2 starter to pair with Ricky Romero. But it was hard to decipher whether Anthopoulos might prefer Wilson or Darvish based on his comments to reporters Tuesday.
Asked about whether the uncertainty surrounding a player’s availability — as with Darvish — might affect his pursuit of other free agents, Anthopoulos said, “Sometimes you have to make a decision with what’s available to you at the time. Timing’s important. You realize if you make a decision and go one route, it may close off other avenues. But I believe sometimes a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. If you have a guarantee in terms of acquiring a player, it may not make sense to wait around. I think most GMs would tell you the same thing.”
That would suggest Toronto could make a strong play for Wilson.
But wait. Anthopoulos said this isn’t necessarily an optimal offseason for the Jays to make a huge investment in player payroll. In fact, he suggested that the Jays may be more flexible with their spending leading up to the July trade deadline than in the months before spring training.
“There are so many variables when you get to spring training: the health of players, the performance of players,” he said. “Rather than try to pinpoint a time frame, all we do is focus on making the club better, adding talent, trying to have an eye on the long term.
“In-season, when you know who’s healthy, when you know who’s having a good year, when you know what the competition is doing, I think that’s when you potentially look to go big. You have a much better understanding of the current landscape at that time.”
CESPEDES: COMING SOON?
Cuban outfielder Yoennis Cespedes could establish temporary residence in the Dominican Republic within the next 10 to 14 days, clearing the way for him to become a major-league free agent, according to a source.
Once Cespedes establishes residency in the Dominican, his representatives will petition baseball to declare him a free agent, which should happen fairly quickly.
Cespedes, 26, is expected to command a major contract on the open market, one considerably beyond the six-year, $30.25 million deal that the Reds gave Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman in January 2010.
AROUND THE HORN
• The Blue Jays have expressed trade interest in Rockies closer Huston Street, according to a major-league source.
Street, 28, is under contract for one more season at $7.5 million, plus a $500,000 buyout. His departure from the Rockies could open a spot for free-agent closer Brad Lidge, a Denver-area native.
The Rockies remain interested in Braves second baseman Martin Prado in a deal that would require them to part with outfielder Seth Smith and at least one other piece.
• Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is under contract through 2013, but the team already has initiated talks about a contract extension, general manager Mike Rizzo said.
“It’s important to us,” Rizzo said. “We’ve already begun preliminary discussions with his people. He’s an important piece for us, a guy that we would like to have here long-term.”
• How fitting that two former protégés of Roland Hemond, Brewers GM Doug Melvin and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, were named co-Executives of the Year by the Sporting News on Tuesday night.
Hemond, a former GM with the White Sox and Orioles and currently a special assistant with the D-backs, was named the winner of the Hall of Fame’s Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in July.
Melvin and Dombrowski, selected in a vote of their peers, both reached out to Hemond by telephone on Tuesday night.