Some retirement speculation swirled around Clayton Kershaw at the end of last season, when the veteran southpaw was entering free agency and also dealing with forearm/elbow injuries that kept him from pitching during the Dodgers’ postseason run. However, when he returned to full health, Kershaw ended all thoughts of retirement, and ended up returning to Los Angeles on a one-year contract worth $17MM in guaranteed money.
As Kershaw approaches free agency once again, health again might be the primary factor as to whether or not he’ll return for a 16th Major League season. For now, Kershaw is feeling good, and told The Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez that “I do think I’m leaning towards playing over not, for sure….I hold the right to change my mind, but as of today, I think that I’ve got at least one more run.”
The 34-year-old is still a dominant force on the mound, posting a 2.42 ERA over 115 1/3 innings this season. Still among the league’s best at limiting free passes (4.4% walk rate) and barrels (4.2% barrel rate), Kershaw also has excellent strikeout and hard-hit ball rates, not to mention a 47.7% grounder rate. Perhaps the only noteworthy number is that innings total, as Kershaw has missed about two months due to hip inflammation and lower-back pain.
“At the end of the day, pitching is tough on my back. There’s no way around that,” Kershaw told Hernandez. “I can manage it, definitely, and maybe there’s a time where it can last for eight months of the year and be good. I still think that’s in there.”
While serious in their own right, back and hip problems aren’t as potentially devastating to Kershaw’s future as an arm injury. In that sense, Kershaw has fewer concerns than he did last offseason, and he noted that he was “thankful for the lockout” in terms of giving him some extra time to rehab and consider his next step. Kershaw was known to have only been looking at two teams in free agency, and chose a return to the Dodgers over signing with his hometown Rangers.
Kershaw didn’t give any hints about his plans for the winter, saying that his focus is just on the Dodgers and the playoffs. While any number of clubs would love to add a pitcher of Kershaw’s caliber to their rotation, it would stand to reason that Los Angles and Texas will be his top two (and probably only) options for another contract. The Dodgers are certainly closer to perpetual contention than the Rangers, though if L.A. can win another World Series this fall, Kershaw might find it an intriguing challenge to head to Arlington and help the Rangers try to win their first championship.