MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Kershaw takes his turn as MLB's top-paid player

Dodgers ace is first in big league history to average more than $30M per season

Kershaw takes his turn as MLB's top-paid player

Clayton Kershaw is at the top of the Major League Baseball charts -- physically, and now, financially.

There is every reason to believe that Kershaw is not yet even in his prime. He doesn't turn 26 until March 19. Kershaw already has been a three-time All-Star and two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. He's led the NL in ERA the past three years, including a 1.83 ERA last season, and is 51-23 since 2011.

And on Friday, it was officially announced that Kershaw signed a seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. At $215 million, it will give the left-hander the largest annual average salary in baseball history at more than $30.7 million per season .

"If someone should have that contract it should be the best pitcher in baseball," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a televised news conference.

The deal underscores the growth of Major League Baseball in the past 35 years.

How much? Well, baseball didn't get its first $1 million per year player until Nolan Ryan with Houston in 1980.

In the aftermath of the California Angels earning their first postseason appearance in franchise history in 1979, Ryan, the ace of the team's rotation, was a free agent. The late Buzzie Bavasi, general manager of the Angels, scoffed at agent Dick Moss asking for $1 million a year for his client.

"I can sign two 8-7 pitchers for half that," said Bavasi.

He couldn't sign Ryan, though.

Houston gave Texas native Ryan a three-year, $3.5 million deal. It is a milestone during the 1980 season that is paled by today's financial structure. The average salary of the top 125 paid big league players in 2013 was $14.1 million.

Kershaw is the 31st player to lay claim to the highest-paid player in baseball since Ryan broke the $1 million barrier.

Kershaw replaced Alex Rodriguez, who had held that distinction since signing a 10-year, $252 million deal with Texas on Dec. 10, 2000. When Rodriguez opted out of that deal at the end of the 2007 season, Rodriguez raised the record to $27.5 million a year, signing a 10-year, $275 million deal with the New York Yankees.

Rodriguez's run at the top of the all-time annual salary list was the longest of the millionaire era.

Only five other players held the distinction for as long as one year.

• Dave Winfield had the title for four years, seven months and nine days after signing a 10-year, $24 million deal ($2.4 million annually) with the Yankees on Jan. 26, 1981.

• Eddie Murray was on top for four years, seven months and nine days, after signing a five-year, $13.5 million deal ($2.7 million per season) with the Orioles on Sept. 4, 1985.

• Cecil Fielder held the top spot for three years and 24 days, after signing a five-year, $36 million deal ($7.2 million average) with the Tigers on Jan. 7, 1993.

• Kevin Brown had the highest average salary for one year, seven months and three days, after signing a seven-year, $105 million deal ($15 million annual average) with the Dodgers on Dec. 12, 1998.

• Ryan's stay at the top ended Jan. 26, 1981, when Winfield signed with the Yankees.

Kershaw has established his place in baseball both on the mound and at the bank.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.