Dodgers to re-sign Clayton Kershaw, ending talk of retirement or a stint with Rangers

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw reacts after left fielder David Peralta makes a diving catch.

The sun hasn’t set on Clayton Kershaw’s Dodgers tenure after all.

On Tuesday, the free-agent pitcher and Dodgers icon agreed to a contract to return to the team, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation not authorized to speak publicly, keeping the veteran left-hander in Los Angeles as he embarks upon the most uncertain stretch of his decorated 16-year career.

While full terms of the contract were not immediately known, the deal is for one season with a player option in 2025, according to another person with knowledge of the situation.

Sources said Kershaw was scheduled for a physical later this week in Arizona, after which the signing would be finalized.

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Starting Thursday, teams can put players on the 60-day injured list — at which point, the Dodgers would be able to clear a 40-man roster space to officially add both Kershaw and reliever Ryan Brasier (who also agreed to re-sign with the team this week) and then put Kershaw on the 60-day IL as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.

After experiencing shoulder troubles late last season — when he managed a sterling 2.46 ERA in 24 regular-season starts before being battered in the playoffs by the Arizona Diamondbacks — Kershaw underwent a procedure in November to repair the gleno-humeral ligaments and capsule of his throwing shoulder.

The operation marked Kershaw’s first surgery as a player. It probably will keep him off the mound until at least the second half of the upcoming season. And, as he nears his 36th birthday, it will present perhaps the biggest obstacle yet in his bid to maintain dominance late into his Hall of Fame-caliber career.

Yet, it wasn’t enough to force Kershaw into retirement, nor prompt a long-speculated move to his hometown Texas Rangers — the only other team the Dallas native has said he would consider playing for.

Instead, for a third straight offseason, he elected to return to the Dodgers as a free agent.

And, for a third straight year, it will come as a relief to those around the organization.

“We are very respectful of Clayton and [his wife] Ellen’s decision and are giving them the time and space to make the best decision for their family,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at the start of the offseason. “But selfishly, we hope it’s for him to continue and finish his career in Dodger blue.”

After completing back-to-back seven- and three-year contract extensions with the Dodgers in 2021, Kershaw became a free agent for the first time in the 2021-22 offseason. That winter, he strongly contemplated both retirement (especially after nearly requiring Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury the previous season) and signing with the Rangers (whose general manager is Chris Young, one of Kershaw’s close friends in the game).

Ultimately, though, he chose to remain in Los Angeles on a one-year deal, citing one objective above all else.

“At the end of the day, I wanted to be here and win a World Series,” Kershaw said in March 2022. “I think the Dodgers give me the best chance to do that.”

A similar calculation guided Kershaw through a second free-agency process last winter, when he again returned to the Dodgers on another one-year pact (the kind of short-term commitment he has said he prefers at this stage of his career).

“I love the freedom of not being committed,” Kershaw said last spring. “I like the ability to reset after every year.”

This year, Kershaw seemed primed to exercise that freedom in a different way.

The Rangers won their first World Series last October, confirming their place as one of the power franchises in the sport.

Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw delivers a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Oct. 7, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw needs 56 strikeouts to reach 3,000 in his career. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Kershaw’s four children are another year older, making the challenge of splitting time between Los Angeles and the family’s offseason home in Dallas ever more daunting.

And, even before he underwent shoulder surgery, there was a growing sense from people around the Dodgers organization that the 35-year-old was unlikely to stay with the team next season.

After 16 years in Dodger blue, some privately speculated Kershaw was ready for a change of scenery.

Alas, several factors seemingly swung the situation back in the Dodgers’ favor.

The Dodgers offered Kershaw the most familiar setting for his first extended rehabilitation process — including having his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, on staff as their head team physician — and will allow him to spend more time back home in Texas while recovering early in the season.

The Rangers, meanwhile, already have a long list of injured starting pitchers (including Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, who are also slated to sit out much of next year) and have reportedly been stymied in free agency by financial concerns from their owners related to uncertainty with their local television broadcasting deal.

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Perhaps most of all, Kershaw can also keep adding to his Dodgers’ legacy. No longer will his first-inning, six-run implosion against the Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series be his parting memory in the Southland. And, with 56 more strikeouts next season, he could become the 20th member of MLB’s 3,000 career strikeout club and third to achieve it while playing for one team.

As for Kershaw’s hope of winning another title, the Dodgers are as well positioned as seemingly any other club to contend in 2024.

They’ve remade their roster this offseason with the superstar additions of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow and Teoscar Hernández. They’ve stoked the expectations of an uncompromising fan base by doling out more than $1 billion of guaranteed money in a free-agent spending spree.

And now, they are capping off the winter with perhaps the most sentimental transaction of all; hopeful that, even as the shadows of Kershaw’s legendary career grow longer, bright days remain on the horizon for him and the team.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.