Clayton Kershaw Undecided On Future

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The Dodgers season came to an unceremonious close last night. After being swept in the NL Division Series by the Diamondbacks, they’re headed into the offseason.

Each fall brings questions about whether Clayton Kershaw will be back for another year. Unsurprisingly, the three-time Cy Young winner wasn’t prepared to answer within the first couple hours of his team’s elimination. Kershaw told the L.A. beat postgame that he’s “not sure” what his playing future holds (relayed by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register).

Kershaw expanded upon that in a conversation with Andy McCullough of the Athletic, saying he expected to take several weeks before making a decision. Last year, he told reporters in late September that he was leaning towards playing in 2023. He agreed to a new deal with the Dodgers by November 10. Kershaw suggested to McCullough he won’t make his decision as quickly this time around.

Part of the calculus is his arm health. The 10-time All-Star landed on the injured list with shoulder soreness on July 3. He was out for around five weeks. While the Dodgers reinstated Kershaw on August 10, team officials conceded he still didn’t feel close to 100%. The southpaw told McCullough he could go for additional examination on the shoulder this offseason.

Kershaw had another stellar regular season despite the injury. He worked to a 2.46 ERA across 131 2/3 innings, striking out a strong 26.2% of opponents. Kershaw’s 7.6% walk rate was his highest in over a decade but still slightly better than league average. While his strikeout and walk numbers took a step back following his return from the injured list, he worked to a 2.23 ERA in his last eight regular season starts.

That production belied a notable downtick in the quality of his raw arsenal. Kershaw’s average fastball speed was a little above 91 MPH through the season’s first three months. His fastball sat at 90.2 MPH in August and was down to just 88.6 MPH on average in the final month. The slider was similarly slow, dropping from the 86-87 MPH range to 84.7 MPH in September.

The diminished arsenal caught up to him in October. The Dodgers’ flimsy rotation left them with little choice but to give Kershaw the ball for one of the first two starts against Arizona. He took the Dodger Stadium mound in Game 1 and was blitzed for six runs on six hits and a walk while recording just one out in an eventual 11-2 loss. The rest of the rotation didn’t fare much better. Bobby Miller surrendered three runs and didn’t get past the second inning in Game 2; Lance Lynn was tagged for four home runs in the third inning to take a 4-2 loss last night.

Addressing the starting staff will be a key priority for the L.A. front office. Julio Urías looks very unlikely to return amidst a domestic violence investigation. Tony Gonsolin could miss the whole year after a Tommy John procedure in August. Dustin May will be out until the middle of the season following flexor surgery. Lynn seems headed for free agency once the Dodgers decline an $18MM club option.

Walker Buehler should be ready to join Miller in two spots. Emmet Sheehan and Ryan Pepiot could vie for jobs, while Gavin Stone and Michael Grove are beyond them on the depth chart. There’s still promise with the group but they’ll need to add quite a bit more stability. If Kershaw decides to return for a 17th major league season, the Dodgers would certainly welcome him back on another one-year deal.

Kershaw signed a $20MM pact last winter. A similar salary would make sense if he continues playing. While the Dodgers could technically put forth a qualifying offer in the $20.5MM range, it’s hard to see that happening. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters two offseasons ago the organization declined to qualify Kershaw to afford him more than 10 days to make a decision on his future. There’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case this fall.

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