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.