So, Clayton Kershaw. There’s a fun topic of discussion. First it was him “not feeling right” after his first bullpen session of the spring. And now this.
For the second time in 13 days, Kershaw has been shut down because of an issue with throwing. This is not good. And why the Dodgers haven’t scheduled an MRI for his ailing shoulder yet is beyond me.
They gave him a $93 million contract extension this winter, and it was the one thing the front office did that was 100 percent a must-do. They couldn’t let the face of the franchise and first-ballot Hall of Famer end his career anywhere else, and it’s just unfortunate that Kershaw is hurting right now. It doesn’t mean he’s going to miss a lot of time — he has missed parts of the last three seasons with (mostly) back issues — but this shoulder thing is a different from his past injury woes and is a lot more concerning.
But what does it mean if Kershaw is hurt for a significant amount of time? It opens up a door for a couple pitchers to step up, namely Ross Stripling and Julio Urias.
With the rest of the rotation seemingly set (he says knowing full-well there’s a month until the season begins), Stripling looked like he’d begin the season in the bullpen and Urias possibly at Triple-A (or in the MLB bullpen).
Stripling made the NL All-Star team as a starting pitcher last season and helped keep the Dodgers afloat in the first half. Urias came back late in the season and has been impressive early on in camp. And the Dodgers still have a solid amount of pitching depth. After Urias, Caleb Ferguson, Dennis Santana and Brock Stewart are next up. Ferguson’s 2019 role is to be determined (as early as the middle of March), while Santana is coming back from a shoulder issue of his own (but looked good in his first spring outing) and Stewart — after a rough 2018 — looks poised to come back and be a factor in some way for the team.
Additionally, there are still a few free-agent starting pitchers available, should the Dodgers go that route: Clay Buchholz, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Dallas Keuchel being the best. Keuchel is going to cost too much, but any of the other three could be affordable if Kershaw is seriously injured and if the team wants to bring in another hurler.
In terms of trades, Corey Kluber was one of the best players attached to the Dodgers on the market, so it’s a possibility at some point. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be available this close to the season, however. An under-the-radar possibility is Carson Fulmer of the White Sox. Joc Pederson has been rumored to interest the White Sox, and if the Dodgers sign Harper, Pederson would be the odd man out. A report from the person who first broke the White Sox’s interest in Pederson said Fulmer was a “name to watch” in a potential Pederson deal. Of course, that was a month ago and much could have changed since then, but Fulmer would be of interest to the Dodgers because he fits their profile: Hard-throwing, above-average spin, slight frame (6’0, 195). He struggled in 32 1/3 innings last season (8.06 ERA) and has command/control issues, but he’s also a former Top 5 draft pick and has a minor-league option remaining. The Dodgers could try to work their developmental magic on him.
So if Kershaw is out, it may not be the end of the world. He could be fine, but the Dodgers are being awfully cagey about this — almost a little more than normal, so there’s cause for concern.
The Dodgers are used to having non-ace Kershaw by now. So if he’s missing completely from the rotation, they’re in a better position to replace his production now than they were just a couple years ago. Make no mistake, though, having Kershaw in the rotation is a good thing, but only if he’s healthy. Right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. This will be something to monitor as Spring Training trudges along.