Dodgers ace Kershaw wins 2013 NL Cy Young
The comparisons are still inevitable, perhaps more now that Clayton Kershaw has a second Cy Young Award.
For however long he pitches, Kershaw is going to be compared to Sandy Koufax, the great Dodgers left-hander who has become Kershaw's friend and mentor. They share so much in common that it seems natural to put them side by side and see how closely they measure up.
Unfair? No doubt about it. But what Kershaw has done in six big league seasons comes as close as anyone to Koufax.
"Sandy would agree that I'm just trying to be me," Kershaw said Wednesday during a conference call from Dallas after he was announced as the National League Cy Young winner. "I'm not trying to live up to anybody's expectations."
He shouldn't have to. Kershaw is already the best pitcher in the game, one who will draw overwhelming attention if the Dodgers don't sign him to an extension this winter and he becomes a free agent at the end of next season.
He has always refused to discuss contract issues publicly, but recently said that the chance to explore free agency is one that players work for so they can explore their options.
"Right now. I'm in LA for one more year, and that's kind of as far as I'm looking at it," he said. "No talks happened yet this offseason. That's really as far as I want to talk about. It's kind of an open book right now."
He doesn't need any more bargaining chips, but his domination in the voting clearly shows his value. He received 29 of 30 first-place votes this year after winning the Cy Young in 2011 and finishing second last season. He and Koufax are the only Dodgers to win the award more than once.
Kershaw, like Koufax a lefty, led the major leagues in ERA for a third consecutive season. His 1.83 mark was the lowest by a starter since Pedro Martinez had a 1.74 ERA for the Boston Red Sox in 2000. Kershaw also led the NL in strikeouts (232) and WHIP (walks and hits per inning, 0.92), was second in innings pitched (236) and opponents' batting average (.195) and was tied for third in wins (16).
Koufax won three Cy Young Awards in 10 full seasons (1963, 1965 and 1966) before an arthritic left elbow forced him to retire at age 30. Kershaw is only 25; Koufax didn't win his second Cy Young until he was 29.
But the notion of being great, as Koufax undeniably was, is not something that motivates Kershaw. He's driven by the chance to win, and that may be the deciding factor in whether he agrees to remain with the Dodgers or chooses to look elsewhere after next season.
Speaking of the chance to win a championship, he said, "I just want to be part of that. When you look back after you retire, it's just so far away. I don't even want to look at it. At end of day, if you don’t win a World Series, it's not the same."
So maybe it will come down to deciding if LA's the place he can win a World Series title. Money will certainly be a factor, but that shouldn't be a problem for the Dodgers' ownership, whose player payroll last season was well over $200 million.
If the Dodgers win in 2014, Kershaw may opt to stay, and the comparisons to Koufax will likely continue.
"I do love LA, and I love being there," Kershaw said. "I’ve loved my six years there so far. I have no trouble being there at all, and I really think we can win there next year."