Barring a last-minute contract extension, Clayton Kershaw will be a free agent for the first time on Nov. 8 or 9 — five days after the World Series ends.
When he left his final start of the 2021 campaign on Oct. 1 due to an injury, I actually teared up thinking it could be the last time he ever starts for the Dodgers, and for him to go out like that was far from a fitting end. Of course, that was all based in emotion, and this post will have lots of emotion, but also some reason that will show bringing Kershaw back is a must. They, in fact, do not need to move on from him, as one hack wrote last week.
He has been the face of the franchise for nearly all 14 years of his MLB career and is the most important player to the franchise after Jackie Robinson (no disrespect to Sandy Koufax). Despite his performance declining at age 33 and injuries becoming more frequent, the Dodgers must bring Kershaw back.
Kershaw missed significant time this season and the entirety of the playoffs with a forearm injury. It’s the first arm injury he’s had in his career, which is pretty remarkable considering all the mileage on said arm and his shoulder. Despite his “struggles,” Kershaw still pitched to a 3.55 ERA, 3.00 FIP (10th-best among pitchers with 120 or more innings pitched) and a 25.2 K-BB% — his best strikeout-to-walk-rate since 2017. He’s still a good starting pitcher, and seeing the way the Dodgers’ rotation crumbled in the postseason and what the current rotation for 2022 looks like, they could use all the good starting pitchers they can get their hands on.
He was still in the Top 10 percentile when it comes to fastball spin (95th), whiff rate (94th), chase rate (90th), and walk rate (97th). His wxOBA and xBA were in the 85th percentile of all pitchers. Sure, the days of 200-plus innings are gone, as are the days of the 94-95 MPH fastball. And even if he’s brought back, he’ll not be confused as the ace (that’s Walker Buehler‘s job now). But Kershaw still brings a lot on the field to the Dodgers, but his impact off the field and in the fan base makes his re-signing a must.
There are some players who just wouldn’t look right playing in another team’s uniform — Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Don Drysdale and the aforementioned Koufax — just to name a handful. If you’re so inclined, you can look down the street and across sports to Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. Actually, the Lakers re-signing Bryant is a pretty good analogy to the Dodgers re-signing Kershaw at this stage of his career. Both were clearly not the player they once were, but they were also faces of their respective franchises and still offered a lot of quality and elite-level competitiveness on the court/field.
Sometimes, the numbers may not fully support the signing, but it’s the right move anyway. On the surface, the Dodgers could probably do better than Kershaw, but that kind of thinking and adherence to the numbers also led them to sign Trevor Bauer last winter, and that — from the start — was an unmitigated disaster (that will hopefully be rectified this offseason).
Money should be no object. This is the Los Angeles Dodgers. You go to Kershaw and say, “What do you want?” and then figure out a way to appease him. Kershaw knows he isn’t going to land a 9-figure deal at this stage of his career. Andrew Friedman knows this, and he also essentially said Kershaw has earned the right to do what’s best for his family, and whatever that is, the Dodgers will support it. That’s the correct stance.
I’m sure the opportunity to play closer to his home in Texas is appealing, but knowing Kershaw’s competitiveness and desire to win, and seeing how the Rangers just finished with 60-102 in 2021, and it’s hard to see him passing up the opportunity to stay in LA provided Texas doesn’t offer him an obscene amount of money. I know there’s another team team in the Bad State because, but I’m not even going to entertain that because that would create a branch timeline none of us want to experience.
All things being equal, it’s really hard to see the Dodgers not doing whatever it takes to bring Kershaw back. He means far, far too much to the team, the community (charity) and the fan base, even if it isn’t reciprocated or acknowledged at times. I don’t really see another team offering him so much or so many years that the Dodgers either don’t match or get it to the point where it doesn’t make a ton of sense for Kershaw to leave.
In this day of so much player movement (which is fine), the chance to have a guy you drafted, developed and watched perform at a Hall of Fame level for you has to mean something. If the Dodgers, for some foolish reason, don’t bring him back, well:
I’ll bring the pitchforks.