What if ... Kershaw got drafted by Tigers?

The best pitching staff the world has ever known?

November 10th, 2020
Art by Tom Forget

After what seemed like a million tries, Clayton Kershaw finally won a World Series with the Dodgers this season. He, of course, felt really, really good about it.

And Kershaw was a big part of the Dodgers' march to the title: He won two World Series games and pitched the game of his life in the NL Wild Card Series.

But what if he didn't? What if Clayton Kershaw wasn't there at all? What if he was never even on the Dodgers?


Although it may seem like destiny that the tall, left-handed wonder wound up pushing off the same L.A. mound that Sandy Koufax once did, there was a good chance that Kershaw was going to be drafted by the Detroit Tigers, and not the Dodgers, in the 2006 MLB Draft. Los Angeles had the seventh pick that year and even though the team scouted and wanted Kershaw, nearly every mock draft had the Tigers taking the high school senior with the sixth pick. Even Kershaw was sure of it.

"I thought I was going to the Tigers," he told the L.A. Times back in 2013.

"We knew [Clayton] was the guy we would take," Dodgers former assistant GM of scouting Logan White tells MLB.com. "The question was, would he get to us or not?"

Fortunately for L.A., he did. When Luke Hochevar -- who had almost agreed to a deal with the Dodgers after they selected him in the '05 Draft (and then reneged on the deal) -- jumped back in the Draft in '06, he was picked first overall by the Royals. That bumped around a bunch of players and Andrew Miller -- the consensus best prospect in the draft -- was still available in the sixth slot. The Tigers grabbed him and the Dodgers were able to get Kershaw.

Let's imagine, though, if all of that didn't happen and Kershaw ended up in the Motor City.

Detroit drafts Kershaw ... and doesn't trade for Miguel Cabrera

"I know [the Tigers] did like Clayton Kershaw a lot," White says. "It's true, they were scouting him in Texas."

Being just 18 years old, Kershaw probably would've pitched a couple years in the Tigers Minor League system -- as he did with L.A. -- and then gotten called up in 2008 for his MLB debut. The complicated part is that Miller was a key part of the trade that brought in Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins in 2007. Would the Tigers have traded Kershaw who, unlike Miller, was a stud from pretty much Day One in the Gulf Coast League? Maybe? But probably not.

So, the Tigers maybe don't get Cabrera, which, um, is a very difficult thing for Detroit fans to process.

But once-in-a-generation pitchers can be more valuable than once-in-a-generation hitters -- especially left-handed pitchers like Kershaw. And if you look at Kershaw and Cabrera's bWAR from 2008-2020, Kershaw does hold a fairly large advantage of 67.0 to 51.1.

Where does Cabrera go instead? The Red Sox and Yankees were apparently trying to get him that offseason. Could Yankees top prospect Phil Hughes have ended up on the Marlins? Would the Yankees win two or three World Series instead of just the one in '09? What kind of damage could a lineup of Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Cabrera do? What about the Red Sox? Could top prospect Jacoby Ellsbury have ended up on the Marlins and Miggy on the Sox? Imagine the right-hander swatting balls off the Green Monster at Fenway Park, slotted in between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.

The greatest pitching staff of all time?

Instead of getting Cabrera, the Tigers could get a few lesser offensive weapons to round out their roster. Maybe they sign first baseman Mark Teixeira during the 2008 offseason. And maybe guys like Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and Prince Fielder can keep the bats solid enough. Solid enough, because onward from 2010, their pitching rotation is one of the greatest of all time: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Rick Porcello. That's nine Cy Young Awards and two MVPs between the four of them.

Those four could've surely gotten the Tigers past the Rangers in the 2011 ALCS, and what about the 2012 World Series against the Giants? Instead of Verlander, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, it could've been Verlander, Kershaw and Scherzer. Maybe some of those other starter arms could've been used to shore up the disappointing bullpen?

The Tigers made five playoff appearances from 2009-15. Do they get to more than one World Series in that time? Do they win one or two or three instead of none? Do they become a dynasty?

What about the Dodgers?

What about them? Without their cornerstone superstar, do they win as many division titles as they have?

"It would've changed the destiny in L.A.," White says.

According to mock drafts, the Dodgers were set to pick Kyle Drabek, who had two Tommy John surgeries and hasn't pitched in a big league game since 2016. But White says it was actually Bryan Morris who the team would've taken.

"I would've loved to tell you we would've taken Lincecum if Kershaw was gone (Lincecum went 10th to the Giants)," White says. "We liked Lincecum, but we would've taken Morris instead."

The Dodgers ended up getting Morris anyway with the 26th pick, he had Tommy John surgery early on and was dealt to the Giants. But if they got him with the 7th pick, would they have gotten someone like Daniel Bard (28th, Red Sox) or Adam Ottavino (30th, Cardinals)? What would their team look like today? Who would be their ace? Do they use their seemingly endless money supply to go out and sign Cliff Lee in 2011? Do they eventually get Scherzer after his contract is up with the Tigers after the 2014 season? Which player would Dodger fans name their pets after? Who would be featured in Southern California street art?

If you're a Tigers fan, you have to wonder. If you're a Dodgers fan, well, there's probably nothing you care less about.