Sometime within the next 24 hours, Clayton Kershaw will make a decision about his future. He may decide to opt out of the remainder of his contract with the Dodgers and test the free agent market, or he may not exercise the option at all, choosing to finish out the rest of his deal in Los Angeles.
“I’ve got three days now to think about all that stuff, and so it will be an eventful three days for me,” Kershaw said in an interview at the conclusion of the World Series. “I haven’t made the decision yet. We have three days to talk, between us and the Dodgers, see what happens.”
Chances are he opts out, but there’s also a reasonable possibility that the management crew of the Dodgers creates a new deal to retain him after he exercises his option. While many folks are expecting a concrete direction over the next few days, this is one of those situations which can conceivably drag on through the winter, all the while giving the 29 other clubs across the majors a chance to offer Kersh their own proposals.
As it stands now, it seems as if the fan base is mixed on whether or not the Dodgers should build on a deal that will exceed $35 million per year, based on his injury history and recent performances, especially in the playoffs. Logic says that the three-time Cy Young Award winner is indeed past his prime, and there’s no way he can figuratively perform in a way that’s commensurate to such a dollar amount. If he does come back to Los Angeles, he’s likely to slot somewhere into the middle of the rotation. And, if he performs at his peak, he could turn out to be a servicable No. 2 starter—but that’s certainly a big “if.”
35+ million is a huge figure, especially for a middle-of-the rotation starter with a recent history of back problems.
In the 2018 postseason, Kersh made six appearances—five of which were starts—and threw a total of 30 even innings, surrendering 14 earned runs, 25 hits (four of which were long balls) and seven walks, while striking out 25 batters. In 30 career playoff appearances, he has compiled a 9-10 record with a 4.32 ERA over 152 innings.
Yet, from a business and merchandising perspective, a new contract could theoretically pay for itself. The Dodgers have people who know a lot more about this area than I do, but Kershaw is still the face of the franchise—for now—and he is part of the brand that has resulted in Los Angeles having one of MLB’s most populated fan bases.
Either way, for anyone who follows the game, it will be hard to imagine Kershaw wearing a different uniform. It’s tough to see him inking a deal that exceeds three or four years, but there just may a team somewhere willing to roll the dice and go all-in on one of the greatest left-handers ever to pitch.
As far as the remainder of the prospective rotation goes for next year, young righty Walker Buehler will be the headliner, with 22-year-old Julio Urias not far behind. Veteran lefty Rich Hill—entering the final season of a three-year, $48 million deal—will likely slot somewhere in the middle to back-end of the rotation. Those are the givens.
After that is a slew of swing men, including Caleb Ferguson, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Alex Wood, who could end up throwing as either starters or relievers. Ferguson ended up being one of the most dependable bullpen pieces during the stretch-run of the regular season. Stripling was named to the 2018 National League All-Star squad for his first-half accomplishments, but failed to make any of the Dodgers’ rosters in the playoffs. By season’s end, Maeda was throwing “just okay,” according to skipper Dave Roberts, and Wood ultimately surrendered four earned runs on four walks and eight hits—three of them long balls—in just 6-2/3 innings of postseason work.
The Dodgers will surely offer free agent lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu some kind of deal, but it’s hard to guess a ballpark amount the 31-year-old will command. My prediction is that he’ll seek a deal in the three-year/$28 million range, but garner a ton of one-year offers, if only because of his injury pedigree. Ultimately, he could settle on a two-year/$20 million type of deal backloaded with health and performance incentives.
The first few days after the World Series have definitely been quiet; however, based on the landscape of the 40-man roster alone, plenty of action is on deck for the Hot Stove season, as a number of new faces are bound to appear in the clubhouse when spring training commences in February.
For all we know, Andrew Friedman and his crew could surprise everybody and shake-up the squad with a blockbuster deal at the Winter Meetings. Stay tuned.