The baseball world’s focus continues to fixate on the MLB lockout and today’s MLB-imposed deadline, but whenever the lockout lifts, the ensuing flurry of free-agent and trade activity has the potential to be historic. One of the most notable names among the yet-unsigned players on the market is three-time Cy Young winner and 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw, who became a free agent for the first time at season’s end. The prevailing wisdom since he hit the market has been that Kershaw would either return to the Dodgers or sign with the Rangers, as Kershaw’s Dallas home is a short drive from Arlington’s Globe Life Field.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today touched on that fact in his latest MLB notebook over the weekend, writing that a former teammate of Kershaw’s expects him to either sign with the Rangers or retire. That’s just one third party’s opinion, of course, and that identifier itself is rather vague. (“Former teammate” could range from Corey Seager to Ted Lilly, after all.) It’s perhaps an anecdotal note, but any clues as to the eventual decision of a future Hall of Famer (and any shreds of offseason normalcy) are of particular intrigue.
It’s already been a huge offseason for the Rangers, who’ve signed Seager, Marcus Semien, Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun as they shift gears from an abbreviated rebuild to a clear win-now approach. Despite doling out a more than a half-billion dollars in free agent contracts, however, the Rangers still ought to have the financial wherewithal to add Kershaw.
The Rangers are projected for a payroll of roughly $127MM, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez, and they have only $80.25MM in guaranteed 2023 contracts to consider. Texas ran a $165MM payroll as recently as 2017 and, from 2014-18, averaged a $146.5MM Opening Day payroll. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News suggested multiple times in recent weeks that a Kershaw match could be in the cards, though the implication in Grant’s latest mailbag piece was that Kershaw would be their final major free-agent expenditure if he did sign (likely at an annual salary north of $20MM).
All that said, while the possibility of Kershaw changing teams is a fascinating one on which to speculate, there’s been no firm indicator that he won’t return to the Dodgers. Kershaw himself appeared on the Dan Patrick Show earlier this month and spoke broadly about the allure of playing on a perennial contender, even if it came with the difficulty of enduring repeated playoff exits (YouTube link).
Kershaw didn’t do much to tip his hand, but he did note that for the Dodgers, “the World Series is the expectation” every year. Dodger fans hoping for a reunion will surely point out the obvious: that has not been the case for the Rangers. Of course, there are broader factors at play. Kershaw noted in that interview with Patrick that he and his wife welcomed their fourth child over the winter, and proximity to his young family will naturally play a major role in Kershaw’s decision.
It’s worth noting, too, that Kershaw certainly didn’t sound like a player who had retirement on his mind.
“We have to continue to prepare like we’re going to play,” Kershaw said when asked how the lockout impacts his preparation for the season. “…I’m continuing to prepare like we’re going to start on time, but each day it just seems like we’re getting further and further from that.”