Dodgers’ James Paxton signing might close door on Clayton Kershaw’s time in LA

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals
Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals / Kyle Rivas/GettyImages

The question of who will fill out the Dodgers rotation has been the team's longest standing question off the offseason, since they signed Yoshinobu Yamamoto and solidified at least the three arms at the top. The Dodgers have a good internal candidate in Emmet Sheehan to fill in at No. 5 while they wait for Walker Buehler to be ready to pitch again and have to reshuffle the order, but the veteran solution they've reportedly sought has eluded them ... until now.

On Monday night, multiple reporters confirmed that the Dodgers were making significant progress toward a deal with lefty pitcher James Paxton. According to Jon Heyman, both sides came to an agreement just before 12:00 PM PST on Tuesday afternoon, allowing the Dodgers to add a vet to the rotation mix and potentially expand things to a six-man unit to accommodate Yamamoto (if all stay healthy).

Now, the meat of the Dodgers' work will be done with just over two weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report. However, it does lead to questions regarding a dark horse who has been perhaps too easily forgotten amongst all of the Dodgers' wins over the past few months: Clayton Kershaw.

Dodgers’ James Paxton signing might hurt chances of Clayton Kershaw’s return

The word on Kershaw up until now has been that the Dodgers are "keeping the door open" for his return, should he want to close out his career in LA after returning from injury midseason.

He had the option to leave in free agency last year but didn't take it; this year, he might've waited too long to make a decision about a return, if he ever intended to come back at all. Paxton, who is expected to sign for one year and $11 or $12 million, is a veteran like Kershaw, but comes with a much smaller price tag. The Dodgers gave Kershaw $20 million last year and would probably have to top Paxton's deal in order to re-sign him, even for a portion of the season.

In November, Kershaw's plan was to return in 2024. Does Paxton's arrival in LA change that plan? Would he consider sitting out a portion of the season untethered and keeping an eye on the health of the Dodgers' rotation?

For now, signing Paxton will fill the Dodgers' 40-man capacity. If Kershaw really did push for a late-game return and was perhaps willing to take less money to do so, the Dodgers making another roster-clearing trade for prospects won't be out of the question. It would, however, complicate matters even further down the line, presuming Paxton stays healthy. Would squeezing Sheehan out of the mix in favor of an icon of the past make any present sense?

Paxton hasn't pitched more than 100 innings since 2019, but his 2023 in Boston looked solid (96 innings, 4.50 ERA). He's no Clayton Kershaw, but if the clear hesitance on Kershaw's end of things to commit is to be taken as a sign, maybe he does want a taste of something different for what might be his last year in MLB. As strange as it would be to see Kershaw play for another team sometime down the stretch, adding Paxton means the Dodgers have checked off another box and can proceed in stronger form than anyone else toward spring training and the beginning of the season.