Clayton Kershaw’s days in Los Angeles aren’t over.
The Dodgers and Kershaw agreed to a one-year deal Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, to end Kershaw’s first stint as a free agent. The deal, which is reportedly worth $17 million plus incentives, will be official once Kershaw passes a physical.
Following reports of the deal, Kershaw posted a photo of himself on Instagram with the words, “We back!”
Kershaw wasn’t a guarantee to return to Los Angeles. The left-hander was seriously considering signing with his hometown Texas Rangers, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation. And yet imagining Kershaw in another uniform was always difficult.
The Dodgers are the only franchise Kershaw has known. They drafted him in 2006, he made his major league debut at Dodger Stadium two years later, and he exorcised his postseason demons 12 years after that. Los Angeles is also home for him, his wife, Ellen, and their growing family.
He’ll enter the Hall of Fame on his first ballot as a Dodger. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 National League MVP will go down as one of the two greatest pitchers in franchise history alongside Sandy Koufax.
For the Dodgers, Kershaw’s presence is more valuable than any other franchise. He epitomizes one of the most successful stretches in club history. He’s the face of the franchise. His jersey sells. They’ve reunited with someone whose value vastly exceeds whatever he does on the mound.
Speaking with reporters before news of the signing Friday afternoon, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he hadn’t spoken to Kershaw since MLB’s lockout of the players ended a day earlier, but he acknowledged it would “feel very strange” if Kershaw, or fellow free -agent pitcher Kenley Jansen, weren’t with the team going into this weekend’s start of spring training.
It would “be an adjustment for everyone,” Roberts said.
It was a potential reality, as the connections in Texas are deep for Kershaw—deep enough for legitimate consideration.
His offseason home is minutes from Globe Life Field where the Rangers play their games in Arlington. Rangers general manager Chris Young is a close friend. Rangers manager Chris Woodward spent three seasons as Dodgers third base coach before taking the job in Texas in 2019. And the Rangers have acquired several former Dodgers over the last two seasons, punctuated by Corey Seager’s mammoth free-agent deal.
The Rangers spent heavily on Seager and three other free agents but were still willing to pay for Kershaw. On the other side, the Dodgers were willing to accommodate Kershaw once he communicated his desire to stay. In the end, it was up to him.
Kershaw — a soon-to-be 34-year-old with more than 2,600 innings on his arm between the regular season and playoffs — isn’t at his peak anymore. The contract is evidence after he made more than $200 million over the last seven seasons.
He posted a 3.55 earned-run average in 121 2/3 innings across 22 starts last season and his fastball’s velocity has diminished. He spent the winter rehabilitating from a significant elbow injury that ended his 2021 season in the final days before the playoffs and nearly required Tommy John surgery.
As of Friday afternoon, Roberts didn’t know any specifics about the progress of Kershaw’s recovery — though the left-hander told the Athletic that he is healthy but slightly behind where he would normally be this time of year.
But, when healthy, he’s remained among the better starting pitchers. A healthy Kershaw gives the Dodgers rotation depth they need. Already operating under the premise that Trevor Bauer will never pitch for them again, the Dodgers lost Max Scherzer in free agency. The only addition they had made to the starting rotation was signing Andrew Heaney, a reclamation project, to a one-year deal.
Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and David Price are the club’s other options to start the season as it stands. Dustin May, who underwent Tommy John surgery in May, could enter the picture later in the summer.
On Friday, they retained a starter whose value stretches long beyond the field, a legend in Southern California who will return to his second home for at least one more season.