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Joe Kelly ‘very close’ to return to Dodgers, per reports

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Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 to win Game 2 of a National League Division Series baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Joe Kelly’s second stint with the Dodgers will last a little longer, after all. The veteran reliever has a new deal to return to Los Angeles, per multiple reports.

Robert Murray of Fansided and Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic were the first to report that Kelly and the Dodgers were close to a contract agreement. Jon Heyman at the New York Post reported Kelly’s deal is expected to be for one year.

The Dodgers declined Kelly’s 2024 club option worth $9.5 million on November 5, instead paying the right-hander a $1 million buyout. Because Kelly reached free agency before rejoining the Dodgers, perhaps this should count as his third time with the team.

Kelly had a 1.74 ERA in 11 appearances down the stretch for the Dodgers, and struck out nearly half (19) of his batters faced (40), then struck out three in a scoreless appearance of 1⅔ innings during Game 2 of the NLDS.

The Dodgers acquired Kelly and starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the White Sox on July 28 in exchange for outfielder Trayce Thompson plus minor league pitchers Nick Nastrini and Jordan Leasure.

On the season, Kelly had a 4.12 ERA and 2.93 xERA in 39⅓ innings over 42 games, with 60 strikeouts against 16 unintentional walks. His 35.7-percent strikeout rate and 25-percent strikeout-minus-walk rate were the best of his dozen-year major league career.

He also missed a total of six weeks in two injured-list stints — one each for the Dodgers and White Soxwith right elbow inflammation, and also missed two weeks in April with a right groin strain. Kelly has averaged 44 appearances and 40 innings over the last three seasons.

Kelly, who will turn 36 in June, has a 3.95 ERA and 3.84 FIP with 732 strikeouts and 339 walks in 807 innings. Since moving to full-time relief halfway through the 2016 season, Kelly has a 3.82 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 27.2-percent strikeout rate, the latter up from 16.9 percent beforehand.

The Dodgers technically still have 39 players on the 40-man roster, as neither Kelly’s deal nor Jason Heyward’s one-year contract to return have yet been finalized. Last December provides a useful instruction that these deals can take as long as necessary to complete, as J.D. Martinez and the Dodgers reached agreement on December 17, 2022, but the contract wasn’t finalized until 12 days later.