The Dodgers announced today that they have re-signed Clayton Kershaw to a one-year deal worth $20 million. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that it will take the form of a $15 million salary and a $5 million signing bonus. It’s been nearly a month since it was reported that Kershaw was about to return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal. For some reason it took a long time to get the paperwork done, but the club made it official today.
Kershaw, 35 in March, was drafted by the Dodgers and has spent his entire career with the club. He made his debut in 2008 when he was only 20 years old. Although he recorded a 4.26 ERA at that young age, he took a step forward the following season and has been one of the best pitchers in the world ever since. So far in his career, he has gone 2,581 innings with a 2.48 ERA, 27.6% strikeout rate, 6.2% walk rate, and 46.7% ground ball rate.
Kershaw is about a decade from his peak, as he won three Cy Young awards in four years, taking the trophy in 2011, 2013 and 2014. In the five-year stretch from 2011 to 2015, he topped 225 four times innings posting an ERA higher than 2.53.
Since then, injuries have put a damper on the quantity of Kershaw’s work, but the quality has remained quite strong. He has not won more than 180 innings since 2015 and has been kept below 127 since 2019. But he still generally stays off the board when on the mound. In 2022, he made a few trips to the IL, but still made 22 starts and posted a 2.28 ERA over 126 1/3 innings, with speed stats roughly in line with his career numbers.
Kershaw has signed a number of extensions with the Dodgers during his time there, the most recent of which runs through 2021. being near his home in Dallas or his retirement. Shortly after the lockout ended, Kershaw returned to Los Angeles on a one-year deal for $17 million plus incentives. This year, Kershaw was expected to choose between the same three paths. He didn’t wait until spring this time, however, with reports coming out shortly after the World Series that he would be coming back to the Dodgers.
Kershaw was one of three starters to see the Dodgers achieve free agency at the end of the 2022 season, with Tyler Andersen and Andrew Heaney also affects the open market. Walker Buhler will likely miss the entire campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. With Kershaw back in the herd, he’ll be in on the act Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May at the rotation. They have some internal candidates for the fifth spot, like Ryan Pepiot or Michael Grove, but it’s likely they’ll be eyeing further additions, especially with some injury question marks floating around this group. As mentioned, Kershaw has not played 127 innings since 2019 and May made just six appearances in 2022 after returning from his own Tommy John surgery.
Adding Kershaw’s $20 million to the books brings the club’s payroll for 2023 to $173 million, according to Roster Resource. The club has gone much further in recent years, but some reports have suggested they could consider sneaking under the luxury tax to reset their status in that department. The competitive balance tax includes escalating penalties for teams that transition in consecutive seasons and the Dodgers could potentially stay below the line in 2023 and then enter 2024 as “first time” payers. The lowest CBT line in the upcoming season will be $233 million, with Roster Resource calculating the Dodgers at $189 million. That gives them more than $40 million wiggle room, though they will have some areas on the roster to address. In addition to the aforementioned rotation situation, they declined a club option on third baseman Justin Turnernon-tendered midfielder Cody Bellinger and also lost shortstop Trea Turner to free office, along with many enlighteners and role players.
The Dodgers won 111 games in 2022, the highest total in the franchise’s long history. That led to their ninth National League West division title in the past ten years. However, they may want to shake things up after being dispatched by the Padres in the NLDS. They have a good number of free agents, but also some prospects at or near the MLB level who could be ready to take the plunge. If they do decide to cut spending this winter, they’re going to have some interesting choices to make in terms of where to spend their resources for the rest of the winter.