The Dodgers announced today that they have re-signed Clayton Kershaw to a one-year deal worth $20MM. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that it will take the form of a $15MM salary and $5MM signing bonus. It’s been almost a month since it was reported that Kershaw was nearing a return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal. For some reason, it took a long time for the paperwork to be taken care of, but the club has now made it official today. Kershaw is represented by Excel Sports Management.
Kershaw, 35 in March, was drafted by the Dodgers and has spent his entire career with the club. He made his debut back in 2008 when he was just 20 years old. Though he posted a 4.26 ERA at that young age, he took a step forward the next season and has been one of the best pitchers in the world ever since. To this point in his career, he has 2,581 innings under his belt with a 2.48 ERA, 27.6% strikeout rate, 6.2% walk rate and 46.7% ground ball rate.
Kershaw is about a decade removed from his peak, when he won three Cy Young awards in four years, grabbing the trophy in 2011, 2013 and 2014. In the five-year stretch from 2011 to 2015, he topped 225 innings four times while never posting an ERA higher than 2.53.
Since that time, injuries have put a damper on the quantity of Kershaw’s work but the quality has remained quite strong. He hasn’t topped 180 innings since 2015 and has been kept under 127 since 2019. But he still generally keeps runs off the board when he’s on the mound. In 2022, he made a couple of trips to the IL but still made 22 starts and posted a 2.28 ERA over 126 1/3 innings, with rate stats roughly in line with his career marks.
Kershaw has signed a couple of extensions with the Dodgers over his time there, with the most recent one going through 2021. A free agent one year ago, it was speculated that Kershaw would be deciding between returning to the Dodgers, signing with the Rangers to be near his Dallas-area home, or retirement. Shortly after the lockout ended, Kershaw returned to Los Angeles on a one-year deal for $17MM plus incentives. This year, it was expected that Kershaw would be deciding between the same three paths. However, he didn’t wait around until the spring this time, with reports emerging shortly after the World Series that he would be coming back to the Dodgers yet again.
Kershaw was one of three starters that the Dodgers saw reach free agency at the end of the 2022 season, with Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney also hitting the open market. Walker Buehler is likely to miss the entire campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. With Kershaw back in the fold, he’ll join Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May in the rotation. They have some internal candidates for the fifth spot, such as Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove, but it’s likely they will keep their eye on further additions, especially with some injury question marks hovering around this group. As mentioned, Kershaw hasn’t reached 127 innings since 2019 and May only made six appearances in 2022 after returning from his own Tommy John surgery.
Adding Kershaw’s $20MM to the books bring the club’s payroll for 2023 to $173MM, per Roster Resource. The club has gone well beyond that in recent years but some reporting has suggested they may consider sneaking under the luxury tax in order to reset their status in that department. The competitive balance tax features escalating penalties for teams that go over in consecutive seasons and the Dodgers could potentially stay under the line in 2023 and then go into 2024 as “first-time” payors. The lowest CBT line in the coming season will be $233MM, with Roster Resource calculating the Dodgers to now be at $189MM. That gives them over $40MM of wiggle room, though they will have a number of areas on the roster to address. In addition to the aforementioned rotation situation, they declined a club option on third baseman Justin Turner, non-tendered center fielder Cody Bellinger and also lost shortstop Trea Turner to free agency along with many relievers and role players.
The Dodgers won 111 games in 2022, the highest such total in the lengthy history of the franchise. That led to their ninth National League West division title in the past ten years. However, they could be looking to shake things up after they were dispatched by the Padres in the NLDS. They have a large number of free agents but also a number of prospects at or near the MLB level who could be ready to make the jump. If they do indeed decide to curtail spending this winter, they will have some interesting choices to make in terms of where their devote their resources in the rest of the winter.