Clayton Kershaw is among the most interesting free agents still available. The future Hall of Famer is no longer the best pitcher on the planet, but he’s still highly effective when healthy. He worked 121 2/3 innings over 22 starts this past season, pitching to a 3.55 ERA with a very strong 29.5% strikeout percentage and a tiny 4.3% walk rate. Among pitchers with 100+ frames, only five topped Kershaw’s 25.2 point gap between his strikeout and walk percentages.
Yet the 33-year-old’s status is complicated by a few matters. First and foremost is health. He missed two months with forearm/elbow soreness between July and September. The three-time Cy Young award winner returned to make four starts, but he exited his final regular season appearance with renewed forearm issues. That proved to be season-ending, and while he didn’t require Tommy John surgery, he did undergo a platelet-rich plasma injection.
Kershaw is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training. Which uniform he’ll don remains up in the air, though. He’s been a career-long Dodger, and the Los Angeles front office has predictably spoken about a desire to bring him back. The Dodgers declined to make him a qualifying offer, a decision president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said last month was out of respect for his accomplishments with the franchise. There’s no doubt the team would welcome a return, but Friedman told reporters the pitcher wanted to take some time to ruminate on his decision with his family.
If he doesn’t return to the Dodgers, it’s widely expected he’d be donning a Rangers uniform. Kershaw’s a Dallas native who has ties to Texas manager Chris Woodward, who previously worked on the Dodgers staff. Woodward is already on record about the Rangers’ desire to bring him aboard this offseason.
Texas probably isn’t going to compete for a playoff spot in 2022, while the Dodgers look like one of the game’s top World Series contenders. Yet the Rangers would welcome both the high-end production Kershaw’s likely to provide if healthy and his veteran leadership for a generally young rotation in Arlington. If Kershaw and his family decide that a move to the Dallas area is desirable, the Rangers would no doubt be happy to add him.
There’d surely be other teams with interest if Kershaw casts a wider geographic net than Los Angeles and Texas. Assuming he’s indeed on track to be ready for the season, the eight-time All-Star would upgrade every team’s rotation. Kershaw himself hasn’t hinted at a decision one way or another, yet it’d register as a surprise to many around the industry if he signed with anyone other than the Dodgers or Rangers.
It’s also at least worth mentioning the possibility Kershaw decides not to play at all. Some may read into Friedman’s November statement that Kershaw “wants to take a little time with (his wife) Ellen and figure out what’s best for them” as a potential hint of retirement. In October, Kershaw had told reporters he hadn’t made any decision about his future (link via Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post). Turning 34 in March and still a well above-average pitcher, Kershaw still looks capable of pitching for multiple seasons beyond 2021, but retirement can’t be completely ruled out until he makes a definitive declaration about his desire to keep playing.
We’ll let the MLBTR readership weigh in with thoughts. Where is Kershaw likely to be in 2022?
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