SAN DIEGO – Clayton Kershaw is not ready for his last dance.
Last offseason, Kershaw’s career was as uncertain as it has ever been. He wondered when a flexor tendon injury would let him pitch again. It was deep into an offseason extended by MLB’s lockout before he was convinced of his health and re-signed with the Dodgers. But he acknowledged that he had given serious consideration to going home and finishing his Hall of Famer career with the Texas Rangers.
Ultimately, he signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers and said he had reached a point in his career where playing would be a year-to-year decision.
On the eve of another postseason at age 34, Kershaw said he is “leaning” toward returning for a 16th season in 2023.
“I think that’s the best way to put it – I’m leaning towards playing, hold the right to change my mind,” Kershaw said. “But I think as of now, I don’t know – it just doesn’t feel over yet. That’s how I’m going into the postseason. This month can change a lot. This offseason can change stuff.”
A combination of factors will lead to his final decision, Kershaw said. But a primary one is how he feels physically.
Kershaw spent time on the Injured List twice this season with flareups of his recurring back problem. But he has learned to live with that – even if he can be difficult to live with at times.
“I think Ellen, my wife, would be the first to tell you that nobody wants to be around me when I’m hurt,” Kershaw said. “She doesn’t even want to deal with me when I’m not playing. So if I thought I couldn’t hold up, I wouldn’t do it. But also – every year I’ve gone into playing, I thought I could hold up too and I’ve been on the IL every year now.
“A couple weeks here and there, a breather, with our team the way it is, is understandable. But any significant amount of time, rehabbing, – mentally, I don’t know if I could do that. Obviously you don’t know that. You can’t foreshadow that. As of right now, I feel great. I’m excited for this next month and a half.”
Perennial championship contenders, the Dodgers do offer enticements that no other team can. But the same is true of the Rangers — location, location, location. Kershaw has admitted the strong pull of playing in Texas where his wife and four children would not have to relocate annually and change schools to accommodate him.
However, despite big investments in free agency last winter (including the signing of former Dodger Corey Seager), the Rangers have failed to show any progress towards contention this season, languishing more than 20 games below .500. They fired manager Chris Woodward (another Dodger connection for Kershaw) and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels during the season. Chris Young, a friend of Kershaw, was elevated to Daniels’ role.
Kershaw does not seem inclined to be part of a rebuilding project of unknown length at this point in his career. But he would not comment on whether playing for the Rangers would still appeal to him.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has made it clear on more than one occasion that he wants Kershaw to pitch for the Dodgers as long as he wants to pitch.
“I’m thankful for that. Andrew and I have a good relationship,” Kershaw said. “I think that’s what the offseason is for. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to think about anything else but the Dodgers. Then you go home and you see your kids a lot – I really like doing that too. I try to have as good a perspective as I possibly can. But no matter where you are, you’re skewed one way or the other.
“I don’t know. Hopefully Ellen has a better idea than I do. She really knows how to say it and be honest. It’s not that she’s, ‘Hey, I want you to do this. That’s what you’re doing.’ No, she’s, ‘This is what it would be like.’ I just think she gets it better than I do when you’re in the middle of it.”
If he does pitch next season, Kershaw would almost certainly reach 200 career wins (he has 195 now) and add to his Dodgers’ franchise strikeout record, closing in on 3,000 career strikeouts (he has 2,794 now).
But winning a second World Series title this fall could be enough. There is an attraction to winning it all and going out on top, Kershaw admitted.
“Of course. Yeah,” he said. “But then the competitor in you is, ‘Well, we’re going to be good next year too.’ So who knows? I don’t know what’s going to happen. But if the season ended today and this was my mindset, I would play again.
“But this next month is big. A lot could change. I don’t want to be nailed down.”