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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

For Kershaw, a pursuit of excellence, not dollars

With big payday likely on horizon, Dodgers southpaw keeps focus on the game

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What's fun about Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw is he is having fun.

He gets it.

He is playing a game and getting paid for it.

He is not about to get hung up in the business aspects.

"I'm just trying to play baseball," said Kershaw. "I look at it that I am getting to play baseball regardless, and the other stuff will take care of itself."

The other stuff is big stuff.

Kershaw won't turn 25 until March 19. He, however, already is making a mark in baseball on the field.

He's about to shake the baseball world in financial terms, too.

Two years removed from free agency, Kershaw could eclipse the seven-year, $175 million deal signed by Seattle's Felix Hernandez. King Felix has even predicted that he will do so. Kershaw is in the second year of a two-year contract that pays him $11 million this year. Both the Dodgers and Kershaw have indicated they are open to working on a new deal before the current one expires. But Kershaw doesn't want the talks to drag into the regular season.

Kershaw doesn't want to be a distraction.

Come Opening Day, when he will draw the starting assignment for the Dodgers for the third year in a row, the only business he wants to be involved with is the business of trying to help the Dodgers win a World Series championship.

"Whether I make $10 or $10 billion, I am going to play the game the same way," said Kershaw. "I know this is my job, but I love to play the game, so I guess it's the best job you could have."

If Kershaw can't enjoy doing his job, who can? The seventh player selected in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Kershaw spent his first two big league seasons getting acclimated. He spent the past three dominating.

Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award in 2011, when he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts; he won another ERA title in '12 and finished second in Cy Young Award voting. He was an All-Star each of the last two years. And over the last three years, he is 48-24 with a 2.56 ERA. He has struck out 689 batters and walked 198 in 665 1/3 innings.

Just wait until he matures.

That's why there is every reason to expect a big payday on the horizon, particularly from a Dodgers team that is less than a year into a new ownership era that has shown the men in charge aren't afraid to open the checkbook. The Dodgers will have a Major League record-setting payroll in excess of $220 million in 2013.

They have the core of the team signed long-term, except for Kershaw.

Eleven Dodgers are signed beyond 2013, including starting pitchers Zack Greinke, signed in the offseason to a six-year, $147 million deal; Josh Beckett, signed through '14; Chad Billingsley, signed through '14; and Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu, given a six-year, $36 million deal after the Dodgers paid a $25.7 million posting fee to his the Hanwha Eagles of South Korea for the negotiation rights.

But not Kershaw.

The Dodgers, however, figure to have room in their budget to lock up Kershaw. This is, after all, an ownership group that has shown it wants to make its commitment to returning the Dodgers to dominance.

Including the $11 million Kershaw will make this year, the Dodgers will have more than $50 million come off the books at season's end, and second baseman Mark Ellis is the only projected regular among that group, which also includes starting pitchers Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano.

And his value is as obvious as the announcement the day of the first full workout of the spring that Kershaw would get that Opening Day assignment.

"He's the guy who is there for the big game, Opening Day, first game after the break," catcher A.J. Ellis said after the announcement. "If you are fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you know he's going to be out there for Game 1."

Kershaw smiles at the mention of the words of praise, an awkward smile.

Kershaw is, after all, the youngest of the eight starting-rotation candidates on the Dodgers' 40-man roster. The only one of the other seven who has less service time is Ryu, who has spent his career in Korea.

"We've got so many good players here, so many guys with experience," said Kershaw. "I have so many guys I can learn from."

Above everything else, Kershaw has not lost sight of the good fortune he has to be a baseball player.

"I talk to my buddies all the time," he said. "They are putting on suits and ties, and going to the office every day. I put on a uniform and play a game."

And under the uniform, he often wears a T-shirt that reads "Exodus 15:3," which includes the phrase, "The Lord is a warrior."

In a baseball sense, Kershaw is a warrior, too.

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

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }