SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers wasted no time cementing that the likely Hall of Famer will return for a 16th season, agreeing to a deal early in November. The two sides made the one-year deal -- which pays Kershaw a $15 million salary in 2023, plus a $5 million signing bonus -- official on Monday.
“I mean, just honestly, it just feels great to come back,” Kershaw said. “I just felt like this is where we needed to be. This is where we want to be. It just feels like we're not done yet, the way we ended up last year it just feels like we’ve got another run on us. So I'm excited to get back out there.”
The Dodgers didn't extend Kershaw a qualifying offer before last month's deadline, but president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made it clear that bringing the left-hander back was "a priority" for the team this offseason. A few hours into free agency, Kershaw's free agency came to an end.
Last winter, Kershaw’s future was much more uncertain. He didn’t pick up a baseball until January after ending the season on the injured list with a forearm injury. His three options were to play for the Dodgers, join the Rangers in order to stay close to his family or retire in the event his forearm didn’t heal as well as he hoped.
Before the end of the 2022 season, Kershaw confirmed that he wanted to play at least another season. He’s going to sign one-year deals for the rest of his career, keeping his options open. There was a chance he could sign with the Rangers, but with the way the Dodgers played during the regular season, Kershaw wanted to return.
The Dodgers didn't offer Kershaw a qualifying offer because they didn't want to rush his decision. But Kershaw was ready to be back with the Dodgers, the only team he's known as a big leaguer. Once he takes the mound next season, he'll become the second Dodger to pitch 16 seasons with the organization, joining Hall of Famer Don Sutton, who also played parts of 16 seasons in LA.
“You know, it’s no secret,” Kershaw said. “I think every year there’s only two teams that I would ever play for going forward. There’s not a lot of leverage in that, obviously. But we just never felt like we were done. And so we got home and like you said, I was healthy. I felt good. We took a few days just to be sure. We were like, ‘Hey, we’re home now. What does this feel like?’ But we just didn’t feel like we were done. And Ellen was on board. She’s excited to get back out there.”
Kershaw was one of the most effective pitchers in the National League last season, going 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 22 starts. He made his ninth All-Star team and started the Midsummer Classic for the first time in his career at Dodger Stadium. The left-hander missed two months due to a pair of back injuries, something he will have to monitor for the rest of his career.
Adding Kershaw this early in the offseason gives the Dodgers another much-needed piece in a rotation that will need at least another quality veteran starter before the start of next season. With Tyler Anderson taking a three-year deal with the Angels last month, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin are the other three starters. Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller -- the team’s top pitching prospect -- will all serve as depth options.
The Dodgers’ top target this offseason was likely Hall of Famer and reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, but the right-hander is reportedly going to the Mets on a two-year deal with a vesting option.
Los Angeles will now need to pivot and look for pitching elsewhere, but whether it’s via trade or free agency remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the Dodgers acted quickly and locked up Kershaw, keeping him a Dodger for at least one more season.