Once he determined his left elbow was totally healthy, first-time free agent Clayton Kershaw narrowed down his choice: Stay with the Los Angeles Dodgers or remain home in Texas with the Rangers?
The deciding factor, the longtime LA ace said, was the Dodgers’ championship caliber roster and mentality.
“We’re a part of something special here, we know that,’’ Kershaw said Sunday. “The playoffs are an expectation here, and the World Series is almost an expectation at this point. Not a lot of teams can say that, year in and year out."
“Sometimes it does not go your way and it hurts, but the chance to be there is worth it … I wouldn’t trade that for anything. You can’t say that about a lot of organizations,” he said. You’re even seeing it now, teams are trading guys; teams are getting rid of guys that they probably shouldn’t if they really want to win. Overall, I think it is a special thing to be here.’’
Kershaw passed his physical, including MRIs on his elbow, and officially rejoined the Dodgers on a one-year contract for $17 million.
Between free agency and the lockout, the three-time Cy Young winner was in limbo for more than three months. Yet the extra time was a blessing in disguise as Kershaw rested his forearm and his elbow until Jan. 1 and then began throwing.
“Without the distraction of figuring out where to play, it gave me time to figure it out,’’ he said. “Once I got healthy, it was no secret, we were going to play in Texas, or stay here.’’
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Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said the first person he called once the lockout ended was Kershaw.
“What Kersh has meant to this organization, to the city of Los Angeles, goes without talking about. Going into the offseason for us, it was our No. 1 priority," Friedman said.
Kershaw credited Friedman for not extending a qualifying offer to him, which gave him extra time to make his decision with his wife, Ellen, and their four children in mind.
“My kids are older and getting in school, the draw being home more, and keeping them in school is big, there’s no secret to that,’’ said Kershaw, who turns 34 on Saturday.
“Ellen was on board, she wanted to do this again. My son, Charlie, is 5 and the last couple years have been tough, so for him to get to be around the clubhouse again, and get to do some of those things, I’m excited. My 2-year-old is a terror right now, so I don’t know if I’ll bring him around, but Charlie’s going to be really fun.’’
Another factor — albeit not a huge one, according to Kershaw — was the opportunity to spend all of his career with one team.
“I think it’s really cool that people do that … I think it is a very awesome thing,’’ he said. “You think about the guys who have done that. It doesn’t really happen recently as much any more either.’’
When the lockout ended on Thursday, Kershaw informed Rangers general manager Chris Young that he was declining their offer.
“That was a hard phone call, to tell CY,’’ said Kershaw, noting their close friendship. “But at the end of the day, I wanted to be here and win a World Series, and I think the Dodgers give me the best chance to do that, and I’m excited to be back.’’
After winning the World Series in 2020, Kershaw’s injured forearm and elbow sidelined him for the 2021 playoffs, where the Dodgers fell two wins shy of advancing to the World Series. Kershaw avoided surgery and patiently amped up his production throughout January.
Kershaw was 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts last year.
“Every day I’d feel better, I wasn’t as sore, I wasn’t as sore,’’ he said. “I started throwing off the mound a little bit more, and kept bouncing back, and just kind of one day, I realized, ‘man, I’m healthy.'''
After a roar from the hundreds of fans attending spring training camp for the first time in two years, Kershaw threw with bullpen catcher Steve Cillad as pitching coach Mark Prior looked on.
Kershaw backed up to approximately 80 feet before Cilladi squatted and they worked at pitching distance off the flat surface. He plans to throw against hitters on Monday, and believes he will be ready for the start of the season on April 7.
“I feel great,’’ Kershaw said. “Obviously, you can’t predict the future, but I didn’t want to come back if I thought there was a chance I’d get hurt. Health is unpredictable at times, but I’d rather not play than get paid and be hurt at this point in my career, which is a blessing to be in that situation.’’