LOS ANGELES -- After Clayton Kershaw signed a three-year, $93 million contract with the Dodgers on Friday, the ace left-hander said he's looking forward to proving wrong those who believe his career is in decline.
"Winning is still the most important for me, that won't change," Kershaw said. "And I think this deal as well gives me a chance to prove a lot of people wrong. This year especially, maybe rightfully so, there's been a lot of people saying I'm in decline. I'm not going to be as good as I once was. I'm looking forward to proving a lot of people wrong with that.
"I really believe that for three years, I can be just as good as I ever have been. I'm not saying I can't be good past that, but that's as long as I'm willing to commit to right now. I feel really good about that chunk of time and I feel really good about being productive for that time."
Kershaw, 30, signed a seven-year, $215 million contract in 2013 that included a player option to become a free agent after five seasons. By opting out, he would have walked away from $65 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.
Instead, the opt-out gave Kershaw the leverage for a third year and an additional $28 million. He will be 33 when the contract ends and again eligible for free agency.
"Honestly, I wanted to stay here," Kershaw said. "Financial and everything aside, it was more valuable for me to stay here. A chance to win every single year, that doesn't come around too often. We just decided it was a much better option to work it out here than anything else."
Kershaw said he, wife Ellen "and the kiddos" love Los Angeles and consider it their second home to Dallas. He said playing for the Rangers would probably have been a more attractive option if they were more immediately competitive, although he stressed his fondness for his adopted home and "it wasn't much of a question this time around."
Kershaw's decision came after a week of negotiations with the Dodgers aimed at finding a middle ground for the franchise's best pitcher in a half-century. His value on the market was complicated by back and shoulder injuries that interrupted his last three seasons and are likely to have contributed to diminished velocity. He adjusted by essentially becoming a breaking-ball pitcher, reliant on his slider.
Kershaw said he is focused on getting people out, not necessarily on velocity, although he cited other pitchers his age or older (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels) who have maintained or regained velocity, and Kershaw said he will devote his offseason to being as good as ever.
"I'm focused on getting outs, doing it very well and doing it efficiently," Kershaw said. "I plan on getting back to that level I was at. If that means the velocity comes back, I'm not counting that out. It very well could. I have ideas on how I can improve on that. First and foremost, no more DL time. I'm setting my sights on that. From there, hopefully getting people out thing will take care of itself."
Kershaw has had repeated back issues, but he said this year was relatively minor and he's confident he can manage his condition going forward.
In the reworked deal, Kershaw will receive $31 million each year, plus another possible $4 million a year in games-started bonuses and bonuses for top-three finishes in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
The Dodgers enter the free-agent season with a corps of starting pitchers. In addition to Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Thomas Stripling, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Julio Urias, Caleb Ferguson, Dennis Santana and Brock Stewart return. Hyun-Jin Ryu is a free agent, but the Dodgers made him a qualifying offer on Friday.
For most of this decade, Kershaw has been the best pitcher of his generation and the greatest Dodgers pitcher since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, with whom Kershaw has developed a close friendship and is often compared.
Kershaw is a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, an NL MVP and a seven-time All-Star. Despite two stints on the disabled list this year, he finished with a 2.73 ERA -- good for fourth in the NL had he thrown enough innings -- and went 6-1 in the second half.
Despite back-to-back World Series appearances, Kershaw still hasn't won a championship, and he was again unable to rewrite the narrative of his postseason struggles by losing Games 1 and 5 in the Fall Classic against the Red Sox. Kershaw is 9-10 in the postseason for his career.
In 11 seasons, however, Kershaw has the lowest ERA and WHIP in the live-ball era. He is 153-69 with a 2.39 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He has won five ERA titles and has led the NL in wins and strikeouts three times.
The opt-out deadline originally was Wednesday night, but both sides agreed to extend it until one hour before the qualifying offer deadline in hopes of reaching a contract extension to keep Kershaw with the club that selected him in the first round of the 2006 MLB Draft.