Despite Injuries, Clayton Kershaw Should Be a Dodger for Life

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I suppose sports are just meant to break your heart. The Dodgers have definitely done that to me so many times in the last decade or so. I fully acknowledge that sometimes, a fan is wont to think more with their heart than with their head. But there are also some players that are so rare, that you can’t help but never want them to play for any other team but yours.

With the upcoming decision of him possibly opting out of his contract, the play of the team, and the injuries to him, many fans have been discussing the future of Clayton Kershaw. He made his return from the disabled list with bicep tendinitis Thursday, a bit earlier than anyone expected. He went five solid innings, only allowing one questionable run. But fans were quick to notice the decreased velocity in all of his pitches. After the game, it was revealed that he had tightness in his back, and would not travel with the team to Colorado, staying home to get an MRI.

If the Dodgers continue on their current path of woe and injuries, they might find themselves sellers at the trade deadline. An idea being floated is to trade Kershaw for an everyday player, with the caveat that the Dodgers re-sign him in the offseason. In addition, even if they don’t find themselves sellers, letting Kershaw walk at the end of the season if he opts out, save the money for someone else, and let him move on.

There are some pros for this train of thought. Having just turned 30, Kershaw could be past the prime of his career. The Dodgers have been doing well without him in the rotation, having a better record without him. He is incurring injuries every season now, missing significant time over the last four seasons. And although he’s not as bad in the postseason as pundits like to say, he always has that hanging over his head.

There are many reasons to think that Kershaw has seen the best of his days pass him by. His fastball is not what it once was was. Now opponents are hitting .300+ against it. Thursday he topped out at 90, and was relying much more on his cutter and slider. His velocity had already been down overall to start this season and last night it was down even more.

Have we come to a time when he’s not the ace of the team? Perhaps. One could say that baton has been passed to Walker Buehler. Ross Stripling has been lights out so far this season, too, although it has been a small sample size. Overall, I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

If the Dodgers are truly working on a World Series win, pitching is what they need the most at this point. The lineup is a good one when they are producing. The Dodgers currently are down so many starting pitchers at this point, I don’t see what the benefit of trading a starter would be. Trading Kershaw would be truly punting on the season. Will they be at that point come July 31? That remains to be seen.

If Kershaw doesn’t pitch much over the rest of the season due to injury, he very well may not opt out and continue with the two years then left on his contract. In two years we will see what has become of his career, and we can cross that bridge when we come to it. If he opts out and tests the market, I am fully for re-signing him.

Kershaw is the rare breed of baseball player these days. He was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers in 2006. He debuted in 2008, and has been a fixture atop of the rotation ever since. His many awards include being a seven time All-Star, three time Cy Young winner, Major League Player of the Year, NL MVP, and lead the league in ERA five times. That’s all well and good, and fans are all aware of those accolades.

The reason to keep him a Dodger is that he embodies everything a baseball player should be. Kershaw is fierce and ultra-competitive on the mound. He is a God-fearing family man off the mound, one who does more in the LA community and around the world than most could ever hope to do. Many articles have been written about his humanitarian work, including a very good one in Sports Illustrated this past week.

“I can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t been said about Clayton Kershaw – He’s something special,” team owner Mark Walters told Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports back in March. “He should be a Dodger for life.”

Being a member of one team for one’s whole career is indeed rare these days. Now so more than ever, sports is a business. Produce or be shipped off to another team or you get DFA’d. That’s how it is. Loyalty for past accomplishments are forgotten as soon as those accomplishments start fading. At a time when fans are miffed over broadcasters acting like too much of a homer, or god forbid high-fiving the manager after a no-hitter, isn’t much anymore as distancing oneself from the team, even as a fan, is seemingly more important.

This is exactly why Kershaw should remain in Dodger Blue. In addition to all the reasons stated above, there is no reason to not believe that fierce a competitor that Kershaw is, he wouldn’t find a way to re-invent himself as a pitcher. Justin Verlander, Rich Hill (when healthy), Bartolo Colon, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer and CC Sabathia are all pitchers than have enjoyed success after 30 and beyond, in some cases. If and when Kershaw becomes completely healthy again, there’s no telling how long he could be good for.

The Dodgers have already budgeted for re-signing Clayton next year. That’s a lot of what remaining under the $197M threshold was specifically for, and also maybe signing another big name in the off-season, although to that effect, who knows what the front office is thinking. The front office will no doubt take into consideration his injuries, and offer less than he might have received if he had remained healthy. That is more than reasonable, and I assume other teams would do the same.

However, at the risk of being glib, Kershaw has literally given his back for the team, especially when he was the only thing they had to get them to and through the playoffs. The time may be over for him as the ace, but even with Kershaw as a number two or a number three on your team, how could that be bad?

The disposing of a Dodger legend, casting to the curb of one who has given his everything simply because reduced production, to me, is asinine. We don’t know what the future holds for Clayton Kershaw as a pitcher. He is only 30-years-old and very well should have many years of good pitching ahead of him, even if he isn’t quite at the level we expect of him. He has been so far above everyone else that even if he came back to everyone else’s level, he would still be pretty darn good. Players who deserve to remain with one team their whole life, who don’t deserve to be given up on are few and far between, and Clayton Kershaw, aptly called The Best Pitcher on the Planet, is one of those players. He deserves to be on the team when the Dodgers finally win the World Series again.

 

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4 thoughts on “Despite Injuries, Clayton Kershaw Should Be a Dodger for Life

  1. Stating the obvious here but… if the price is right, absolutely give the man an extension. Four more years at 25 per (on top of the remaining 2) has to be the discussion. If he wants 35 per for multiple years, then no. No matter who he is, that would be dumb. I love Kersh but to give too much is to screw the team. Yes, they can afford it but Guggs seems intent on spending less money (yet they raise ticket prices?).

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  2. It’s a business decision that won’t be made for months. Bad backs don’t get better with age, and I would add that would be especially true in a pitcher that torques the way Kershaw does.

    That said, is it possible he could earn his contract, with an extension added to it, by doing what Hill did in ‘16 – 20 starts, 3 WAR in 110 innings?

    I’ve said it before and I believe it bears repeating – this is a group of pitchers that need more recovery time than any I’ve seen in Los Angeles as long as I’ve been following the team. The fragility of this staff was predictable and in fact predicted. All of them are, or should be, on some kind of innings restriction program. I don’t see a 200 inning guy anywhere in the organization. Is it time to build that 6 man rotation? Even with that plan it means 27 starts for 6 guys and who do we see capable of that? 6 man rotation, with another 2-3 thrown in during the summer months as those 6 Cinderella’s take their turn on the 10 day. Oh yeah, and throw in the occasional Tampa Gambit in July and August – start a reliever.

    It’s time for some creative thinking from the group that assembled this frangible structure.

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    1. Well if there’s one thing this current front office has been known to do so well (outside of stockpiling depth in the most unlikely of ways, lol) it’s their uncanny ability to think outside the box with that they have to work with. I think we’re gonna wind up seeing relatively new pitchers like Dennis Santana going the first 4-5 innings with a veteran multi-inning arm “piggy-backing” the rest of the way (much like what we saw with Maeda and Ryu last year when both had a combined start which led to the Dodgers winning that game). Already saw it again with top LHP prospect Caleb Ferguson when his start was pushed back from this past Saturday to yesterday for AAA OKC. He only went 3 innings due to being pulled out of his normal routine but didn’t give up the lead when he was finally taken out. Liberatore came in to act as the 1-inning “bridge” to Banuelos, who came in and pitched 4+ innings until he faded in the 9th where most of those 3 runs he gave up took place. OKC still won the game however, thanks to how that pitching staff was used that night. Could see more of that on the parent club fairly soon now that Kershaw’s return is no longer a guarantee this season (or beyond that)…

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  3. Well, I wouldn’t mind the Dodgers making Kershaw an offer that lets him finish out his long-time tenure with the only team he’s ever known…for the right price, that is! Thing is, his career trajectory in terms of these back issues eerily reminds me of how former A’s/Angels ace Dan Haren gradually wound down near the end of his career. Both pitchers have the same “hesitation” delivery which puts so much stress on their backs that it’s almost a sure given that their stuff decreases in quality over time. Both also happen to have prominent cut fastballs (a pitch that’s NOT for everybody; seems those pitchers who are blessed with extremely long fingers can seemingly throw that pitch forever to good effect), which might also factor in the decrease in velocity as well. If Kershaw indeed is on the Dan Haren career trajectory, he’s a pretty much a back-end starter at best moving forward. Doubtful the Dodgers give him a 5-year/$200-million contract should he opt out after this season on account of that.

    Best case scenario? Kershaw finally bites the bullet and sees a renowned chiropractor about the option of undergoing surgery to alleviate his ongoing back issues. Then he spends all of winter overhauling his mechanics so he throws more fluidly and takes less strain off his back, maybe even enrolling in this velocity-increasing Driveline program I keep hearing so much about of late regarding how it’s turned that Astros pitching staff into flat-out world beaters this year. If both avenues prove to be successful for him in terms of getting him back to where he used to be prior to 2016, “Dodger for life” doesn’t seem so far-fetched all of a sudden. Up to him, though. See what path he decides to take in the meantime…

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