SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw's return to the Los Angeles Dodgers was officially announced on Monday, nearly a month after both sides had agreed to terms. His one-year, $20 million contract -- $5 million of which will be paid as a signing bonus, a source confirmed to ESPN -- became official three days after Jacob deGrom attained a five-year, $185 million deal from the Texas Rangers and minutes before word spread that Justin Verlander had agreed on a two-year, $86 million deal with the New York Mets.
Kershaw is younger than Verlander, more successful than deGrom and nearly as effective as both, and yet his new deal isn't in the same stratosphere.
He's seemingly good with that.
"We're so at peace with the way we're doing things," Kershaw said during a videoconference. "There's nothing wrong with however anybody wants to go about it, and that's awesome. For me, for our situation, I wanna pick the team first and then figure out the contract after that. I don't wanna be told where to play; I wanna pick where to play. And if they want me, then we'll figure it out. That's how I wanna go about it for the rest of my career. And if there's a few dollars left on the table, I'll be OK with that."
Kershaw, who will turn 35 in March, informed Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman that he would be interested in a reunion shortly after the team was eliminated by the San Diego Padres in the National League Division Series. A deal came together shortly thereafter -- and was delayed in becoming official only because Kershaw procrastinated on the MRIs, he said.
For the second straight year, the Dodgers opted against presenting Kershaw the qualifying offer and then signed him to a one-year contract at a figure close to it. And for the second straight year, Kershaw at least toyed with the possibility of pitching for his hometown Texas Rangers, who employ his good friend Chris Young as their general manager.
"It's no secret," Kershaw said. "There's only two teams that I would ever play for going forward. There's not a lot of leverage in that, obviously."
But the threat of retirement appeared to loom more heavily last offseason. An arm issue prevented Kershaw from pitching in the playoffs in 2021 and kept him away from throwing until the ensuing new year. Once he realized he could pitch at full health, Kershaw heavily weighed the possibility of joining the Rangers before committing to the Dodgers shortly after the lockout ended in the middle of March. This year, though, the Rangers didn't seem to pose as much of a threat.
"I have a lot of respect for them, and I think they're gonna do a lot of great things," Kershaw said. "They just signed deGrom, and they're really making a push to be great. And I think that's awesome. Being from here, I think they're gonna do great things. But for me, it's always gonna be a decision of whether we feel good in L.A. or not, first and foremost. And we feel great about being back."
Kershaw hasn't reached 200 innings since 2015 but has nonetheless been among the sport's most effective pitchers over these past seven seasons. His 2.56 ERA from 2016 to 2022 trails only that of deGrom (2.50) among those who compiled at least 900 innings during that stretch; his 0.95 WHIP (second) and 6.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio (first) are also near the top. But Kershaw has been on the injured list at least once in each of these past seven years, with most of those stints related to his back.
Injuries aside, Kershaw remains an integral member of the Dodgers. Someday, a statue might be erected in his honor outside of Dodger Stadium, joining those for Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax. The 2022 season was his 15th in L.A. He went 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 22 regular-season starts, made his eighth All-Star team -- starting that game for the first time, at least in part because it took place in his home ballpark -- and was a key member of a team that set a franchise record with 111 wins before a stunning elimination at the hands of its division rival.
Coming back proved to be an easy decision.
"For me, it's just gonna be a product of circumstance, and right now I feel great being in L.A.," Kershaw said. "I'm so excited to get back out there. I think that's the biggest thing. I don't wanna just keep doing it to do it. I want to do it because I'm excited, I want to win, I want to be out there, I feel good, I want to pitch."