The Dodgers’ first piece of business during this year’s annual winter meetings?
Officially re-signing their longest-tenured player.
On Monday morning, the team announced it had finalized a one-year contract with pitcher Clayton Kershaw worth $20 million for the 2023 season, officially ensuring the three-time Cy Young Award winner will stay in Los Angeles for a 16th season.
Kershaw’s return had been expected for weeks, ever since news emerged last month that the sides were close to a deal for the free agent pitcher.
The only reason his contract hadn’t been finalized sooner was because of scheduling for a physical, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.
But now that it’s done, Kershaw is set to rejoin a starting rotation that remains an area of focus for the Dodgers this week, as the league’s winter meetings kick off in downtown San Diego.
Even with Kershaw in the fold, the Dodgers appear to be a starter short for the 2023 season.
They already lost one All-Star, Tyler Anderson, in free agency after he signed with the Angels last month. They’ll likely be without another, Walker Buehler, for all of next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
The team is also waiting for the outcome of Trevor Bauer’s appeal of a two-year suspension, the result of which could have implications on its payroll flexibility this winter.
With Kershaw’s signing, the team’s estimated luxury tax payroll stands at around $189 million — still $44 million shy of the first tax threshold.
The Dodgers have freed up about $70 million so far this offseason. Are they amassing a war chest to sign New York Yankees free agent Aaron Judge?
Kershaw’s return will undoubtedly help.
Even in his age-34 season last year, the left-hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy. He went 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA. He started the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. And despite two stints on the injured list with back problems, he finished the campaign on a tear, giving up just seven total runs over his final seven regular season starts.
His fastball has lost some life. He relies on his slider more than ever before. But even as he progresses through the twilight of his future Hall of Fame career, Kershaw’s continued success on the mound made him a priority for the Dodgers this offseason.
“Things just feel more right in the world,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said earlier this month, “when Kershaw is wearing a Dodgers uniform.”
To keep Kershaw in a Dodgers uniform, the team had to fend off a threat from the Texas Rangers for a second consecutive offseason. During Kershaw’s first foray into free agency last winter, he re-signed in Los Angeles but said the Rangers had finished a close second.
This year, it was apparent Texas was interested again, leaving Kershaw’s future unclear at the start of the offseason.
But after the Dodgers declined to extend Kershaw a qualifying offer earlier this month — a courtesy they gave Kershaw last winter — the team and the pitcher quickly closed in on an agreement for a new deal.
How the Dodgers will complete that group remains to be seen.
Cody Bellinger is a free agent after the Dodgers did not tender a contract offer to the 2019 NL MVP. He can still re-sign with the team.
One option the Dodgers might consider: Giving the slot to one of their on-the-verge prospects, with Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller all seen as possible MLB contributors in 2023. However, those pitchers could also benefit from more time in the minors, making them likely to serve as depth options to start 2023.
As of Monday morning, the Dodgers appeared to have options.
And with Kershaw officially being retained, the team can proceed through the winter knowing it will only have one key rotation opening to fill this offseason.