Clayton Kershaw will return to the Dodgers, reportedly agreeing to a one-year contract after reaching free agency for the first time in his career.
Kershaw posted “We back!” on Instagram on Friday afternoon:
Free-agent left-hander Clayton Kershaw is in agreement with the Dodgers on a one-year deal, pending a physical, sources tell @TheAthletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 11, 2022
Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers are in agreement on a one-year deal, source confirms. @Ken_Rosenthal had it first.— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) March 11, 2022
Kershaw gets $17M plus incentives on Dodgers deal— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 11, 2022
The deal is pending a physical, and has not yet been announced by the team.
2022 will be Kershaw’s 15th major league season. He turns 34 in March.
Team employees were not allowed to contact major league players, including free agents, during the lockout, which ended on March 10. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on March 11, a few days before pitchers and catchers were to report to spring training, said he hadn’t yet talked to Kershaw nor closer Kenley Jansen, also a free agent.
“We have a great relationship. Both those guys. They’re going to be Dodgers forever, as far as the legacy piece,” Roberts said. “How it plays out in the coming weeks, I just don’t know.
“The thing that players count on, fans, coaches, and everyone counts on stalwarts and cogs. Those two guys in particular have been that for the Dodgers.”
The immediate future for Kershaw involves a lot of rest this offseason. The elbow injury that cost him over two months during the regular season then knocked him out for the playoffs did not require surgery, with the left-hander opting instead for an injection of platelet-rich plasma.
“We’re going to be cautious this time. I’ve never given it the rest it’s needed, for whatever reason, trying to get back for the postseason,” Kershaw told reporters during the NLDS, per Bill Plunkett at the Orange County Register. “Really I just came back too soon the first time. So I’m going to be cautious this time. It’s going to be a while.”
Kershaw when on the mound in 2021 was effective, with a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts, with 144 strikeouts and 21 walks in 121⅔ innings. It was Kershaw’s highest ERA since his 2008 rookie season, but his strong peripherals and batted-ball data gave Kershaw a 3.17 expected ERA, which ranked 11th among major league pitchers with 100 innings.
After the 2018 season, Kershaw had the choice to opt out of the final two seasons of his seven-year, $215 million contract, but on the day of that decision he and the Dodgers reached a new three-year, $93 million contract that ran through 2021. November 3 was the first time Kershaw reached major league free agency.
While returning to Los Angeles was considered the most likely return, this offseason involved more uncertainty than ever in Kershaw’s career. Kershaw made known how increasingly difficult it was be to be away from his young children during the baseball season, as far back as February 2021 in a profile by Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times.
Kershaw’s hometown Rangers pursued the left-hander, with Texas manager Chris Woodward confirming the interest on ‘High Heat’ on MLB Network on November 22.
“Kersh and I are really good friends. We believe in the same things as far as how to play the game, how to prepare,” Woodward said. “If he wants to come back to Texas, I’m pretty sure we’re going to welcome him there. It’s home for him. I know he’d love to take his kids to school and go pitch a game that night. ... It would be a tremendous asset for us.”
The weight of Kershaw’s decision factored into the Dodgers decision not to extend Kershaw a qualifying offer. The one-year, $18.4 million offer would net the Dodgers draft pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. If offered, Kershaw would have had to accept or decline by November 17.
“I think just with our respect for him and for what he’s done for this organization, that wasn’t something that we wanted to do and put him on that kind of clock when he wasn’t ready for it,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said during the GM meetings in Carlsbad, per Juan Toribio at MLB.com.
“My future is going to take care of itself. I’m not really worried about that right now. I really wanted to be with this group going into October,” Kershaw said on October 1 after re-injuring his elbow. “I haven’t wrapped my head around [free agency], and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”
There were a wide range of predictions for Kershaw’s contract, with a rough average of over two years and over $22 million per year. In a poll, 85 percent of True Blue LA readers guessed Kershaw would return to the Dodgers.