Clayton Kershaw Set To Return to Dodgers on One-Year Deal by Dan Szymborski November 11, 2022 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports Another solid pitcher has come off the free agent list on Thursday evening, as Clayton Kershaw is apparently close to a return to the Dodgers on a one-year contract. No financial terms have yet been revealed, but I would expect that the bottom-line figure is similar to the $17 million he made last year, or just a few million dollars more. The team didn’t extend him a qualifying offer, but that may reflect less on what the dollar figure is and more on the fact that he is Los Angeles’ longest-tenured player and a crucial part of the franchise’s history. Bouncing back from an elbow injury that ended his 2021 before the playoffs, Kershaw returned to his usual late-career form, with a 2.28 ERA and 2.57 FIP over 22 starts, good enough for 3.8 WAR and to make him the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. Kershaw has attained the service time and respect with the organization that he’s now one of those players who, as long as he wants to keep returning, can likely receive endless contracts, a status similar to that earned by players such as Adam Wainwright and David Ortiz in recent years. While he avoided a recurrence of the dreaded flexor tendon soreness from 2021, his ongoing back problems limited him to 126 1/3 innings, an expectation that seems likely to repeat going forward. Since leading the league with 232 2/3 innings in 2015, he has only been healthy enough to qualify for the ERA title twice in the last seven seasons. The bigger question wasn’t whether Kershaw would be back in Dodger blue but whether he would be back at all; the general consensus has been that he would either return to the Dodgers, go to his hometown Rangers, or retire. 2023 ZiPS Projection – Clayton Kershaw Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR 2023 10 5 3.41 22 22 121.3 107 46 17 25 129 122 2.3 2023 ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Clayton Kershaw Percentile ERA+ ERA WAR 95% 197 2.11 4.1 90% 167 2.49 3.5 80% 147 2.82 3.1 70% 138 3.01 2.8 60% 129 3.22 2.6 50% 122 3.41 2.3 40% 111 3.73 2.0 30% 105 3.96 1.7 20% 97 4.30 1.4 10% 89 4.68 1.0 5% 81 5.13 0.6 ZiPS suggests a one-year, $17.6 million contract or a two-year, $31.8 million deal, so the projection is likely in the same zip code, if not the same neighborhood. If he wasn’t before, Kershaw is officially in the “crafty veteran lefty with moxie” portion of his career. Though he was never really a flamethrower at his peak, he’s lost about four mph off his best velocities, and as a result, the four-seamer is more of a change-of-pace pitch than anything at this point. There were 225 pitchers in 2022 who had a four-seamer as the final pitch in at least 100 plate appearances, and Kershaw had the second-lowest swing-and-miss percentage at 9.9%, better than only Spenser Watkins. That’s rate just about half most of the rest of his career. His slider is only a couple ticks slower than his fastball, and he’s primarily become a curve-and-slider pitcher these days. There’s little doubt that the yearly retirement rumors are at least partially driven by the fact that Kershaw has likely hit most, if not all, of his potential career milestones. He has his three Cy Young awards and an MVP trophy and got his World Series ring in 2020. He will likely collect win no. 200 sometime early in 2023 and strike out his 3,000th batter should he return in 2024, if the latter even matters to him at all. He was his generation’s likeliest challenger for the 300-win threshold, with ZiPS generally projecting him to finish with 260–290 wins throughout most of his prime. But that pace has slowed down considerably; he’s only won 99 games in eight years, despite excellent pitching, and I can’t see him hanging around anywhere near as long as would be required for another 100. If he chooses to play out the full rest of his career, ZiPS now projects Kershaw to finish at 240–123 with 3,411 strikeouts in 3,200 innings, good for 79.8 WAR. Since ZiPS now natively projects JAWS, this career line would give him 63.8 JAWS, enough to move him up to 21st in major league history. Truth be told, he should make the Hall now, with 73.4 WAR and ranking 24th in JAWS, and if he struggles to make the 75% threshold quickly, I’m definitely going to throw an unfortunate temper tantrum or two on Twitter (or its successor) in six or seven years. Obviously, he’ll be a checkmark on my ballot. Bringing back Kershaw for another season is more than an exercise in nostalgia for the Dodgers, as his return solidifies a rotation with several questions. If you check the Roster Resource page for the Dodgers, Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove project as the fourth and fifth starter based just on who is currently signed to a contract. There was little chance of that actually coming to pass, and with Julio Urías a free agent after next season and Walker Buehler out for 2023 with Tommy John surgery, penciling in Kershaw for 25 solid starts is highly useful. Even the Dodgers don’t treat their payroll as unlimited, and they can now more comfortably commit more long-term dollars elsewhere this offseason, whether it’s to extend Urías or go after one of the prizes in a relatively thin market for starting pitchers. The Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw are better together, so it’s nice to see him back for at least one more year in LA. The Dodgers have a lot more to do this offseason, but it’s nice that replacing their most significant starting pitcher since Sandy Koufax has been crossed off the to-do list.