Saturday, January 28 2023

The Dodgers entered this offseason with glaring vacancies in the rotation and at shortstop. They started by addressing the former. 

After extending a qualifying offer to free agent pitcher Tyler Anderson, the Dodgers began closing in on a one-year deal with Clayton Kershaw. While terms are still being finalized, the club’s all-time strikeouts leader is expected to return to Los Angeles. 

Both Anderson and coveted free-agent shortstop Trea Turner received qualifying offers from the Dodgers. Kershaw did not. The belief, much like last season, was that the Dodgers didn’t want to rush Kershaw’s decision. Qualifying offers must be made five days after the World Series ends, and players have only 10 days from that time to decide whether to accept it. 

Of course, last season was different for Kershaw, who was coming off an elbow injury that prevented him from picking up a baseball until January. He didn’t want to make a decision until he felt physically prepared to help a team. His injury coincided with the lockout, allowing more time for Kershaw to choose whether to return to the Dodgers for a 15th season or to pitch for his hometown Texas Rangers

The lockout ended in March, around the same time Kershaw said he began to feel healthy again. The first call Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made was to Kershaw’s representatives. Soon after, Kershaw delivered the news to Rangers general manager Chris Young that he was returning to Los Angeles, where he felt he had the best chance to win another championship. 

“I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think that I was healthy,” Kershaw said after making his decision. “I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think I could pitch a full season and be ready to go.”

From the beginning of Spring Training, Kershaw demonstrated his readiness for the 2022 season. He returned in better shape physically than anyone could’ve anticipated given the severity of the injury that cut his 2021 season short. 

In his first start of the regular season, Kershaw struck out 13 batters in seven perfect innings. He went to the injured list twice over the course of the season due to his irksome back — something he knows he might have to deal with the rest of his playing career — but his arm never gave him issues while going 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 22 starts. He started the All-Star Game in front of his home fans, became the Dodgers’ all-time strikeout leader, was perfect through seven innings on two occasions and was healthy for the playoffs. 

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“That’s why I wanted to be here,” Kershaw said before the postseason began. “You think back in March, thinking about your life and different options and things like that, this is what you want to do.”

Kershaw allowed three runs in five innings to the Padres in a 5-3 Game 2 defeat in his lone National League Division Series start. Two games later, the Dodgers’ postseason run came to an abrupt end. 

In the aftermath, Kershaw expressed his desire to continue playing. 

“I think so, but … no buts, I think so,” Kershaw said. “We’ll see what happens. Going home and being around and being a full-time dad changes your perspective on things, but as of right now I’ll say I’ll play.”

Feeling healthy this time around, it didn’t take long for Kershaw to decide his future. 

Kershaw provides the Dodgers another needed commodity with Walker Buehler, who underwent Tommy John surgery and a flexor tendon repair in August, possibly missing the 2023 season. Kershaw will join Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May among the pitchers under contract who are likely to start for the Dodgers. Kershaw and Gonsolin were both All-Stars this season, Urías is a Cy Young Award finalist and May made his own return from Tommy John surgery. 

Anderson and Andrew Heaney, who both contributed to the Dodgers’ league-leading rotation, are free agents. If Anderson accepts his qualifying offer, that would make a full five-man rotation. 

The Dodgers could dip further into the free-agent pool to solidify the group, though they also have young options in Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove, Andre Jackson, Gavin Stone and top pitching prospect Bobby Miller. Stone and Miller, who were both selected in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft, have yet to debut and would need to be added to the 40-man roster. Any of those pitchers could also bolster a Dodgers bullpen that will now be without high-leverage threat Blake Treinen, who underwent right shoulder labrum and rotator cuff surgery. 

While the Dodgers wait for their prospects to develop, Kershaw’s presence is all the more helpful. He will enter the 2023 season with 197 career wins, three short of joining Don Sutton and Don Drysdale as the only 200-game winners in franchise history. 

One-year deals continue to allow the future Hall of Famer to consider how long he wants to keep going. Kershaw said last year that playing for one team for the entirety of his career “wasn’t a huge factor” in his decision, but he also acknowledged how cool it would be. 

“We’re a part of something special here,” Kershaw said. “We know that. The chance to win is special. Playoffs are an expectation here, and the World Series is almost an expectation. Not a lot of teams can say that year in and year out.”

The 2023 season will be no exception for a Dodgers team looking to avenge an early exit. 

Read more:

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.

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