How Clayton Kershaw’s injury impacts remainder of Dodgers’ season

Dodger fans collectively freaked out on Wednesday when it was announced Clayton Kershaw had a sore back and was going to head back to Los Angeles for an exam. And could you blame them? Kershaw has been the glue holding this team together in 2016.

Yesterday, he received an epidural (not uncommon to what Adrian Gonzalez received earlier in the season) and went on the 15-day disabled list. Before you completely freak out, read this excerpt from Eric Stephen’s article from Wednesday:

“If this is a short-term injury for Kershaw — and this is just pure speculation — he could be placed on the disabled list and get over three weeks off while only missing two starts, thanks to the All-Star break. Kershaw only has two starts before the break as it is, slated to pitch Friday against Colorado then next Wednesday against Baltimore. His total time missed would then depend on where he is slotted in the rotation after the break, when the Dodgers open a series in Arizona on July 15.”

Not so bad, right? Well …

… and …

… well then.

The words “mild” and “herniation” don’t seem to go together, and the phrase “do not have a timetable” for his return is even more concerning. Naturally, the Dodgers traded for Bud Norris to “replace” Kershaw in the rotation — for now.

Obviously, this news is sub-par. The Dodgers need to find a way survive without Kershaw for two weeks (or potentially longer). The last time he had a back injury (and this is completely unrelated, no matter what a misinformed former Los Angeles Times hot take machine might say), he missed a month. Somehow, this seems worse, mostly because of the unknown.

If Kershaw is out much longer than 2-3 weeks and there aren’t pitchers (or hitters, really) who pick up the slack, the season could be in jeopardy. It’s a gloomy outlook for for a team just six games back in the division and leading the first wild card spot by 1 1/2 games, but losing the most important player to his team in the game for an extended period of time is difficult to overcome. The Dodgers have plenty of resources (prospects and money) to attempt to make up for it, but the trade market is far from materializing.

More to the point, the front office is trying to remain competitive and have a strong future at the same time, which doesn’t happen by trading tons of prospects or taking on the bad contracts of guys on the wrong side of 30. The Dodgers will need to decide in the next couple of weeks if they’re going to go for it or trade off some pieces and look toward 2017, and how the team plays in the next 2-3 weeks will determine what happens.

If they decide to go for it, they need to have a team that could take down the Cubs in a 5-game series — because that’s what the Wild Card Game winner has to look forward to. The team, as currently constructed, probably can’t do it. With a healthy Kershaw, their odds improve, but there are just an overwhelming number of injuries right now.

Andrew Friedman is on record as saying he’s going to target elite-level players at the trade deadline.

“‘I think with the depth of our team and strength of the Minor League system, it allows us to focus on elite-level players. That’s for the most part where our focus will be during the trade deadline and we’ll kind of see how it plays out.'”

For a team with the depth the Dodgers have, that is absolutely the right call. Problem is, there aren’t a lot of elite players usually available at the deadline, and those who are usually fetch quite a return.

Still, it’s the right approach to take for the roster the Dodgers have at the moment. While it made sense to come up with the likes of Alex Wood and Mat Latos last season (because the cost for David Price and Cole Hamels was incredibly high), that won’t be the case this season. The Dodgers don’t need another Alex Wood (they need the one they have to not be hurt), they need an impact player. Finding a spot for that impact player is the challenge this front office must now overcome.

Even if Kershaw does end up being out for an extended period of time (with the expectation of him coming back later), a big trade deadline move or two could boost the team’s odds of reaching the playoffs significantly. Sure, all the players who have been under-performing should get better, and the team does have reinforcements coming off the DL, but make no mistake: This team needs a big move that makes sense for the present and also somehow doesn’t jeopardize the future.

Of course, all this is predicated on Kershaw being healthy. So, Clayton, please get healthy. Please.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.