Last offseason, you could argue the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans invested way too much time and energy into Clayton Kershaw's "decision." As legendary as Kershaw is, he's hardly been a stabilizing factor on this team since 2016 -- his last fully healthy campaign without an absolute implosion in the playoffs.
Dodgers fans obviously don't want to see him playing in another uniform, nor do they want him to retire, as he's so close to 3,000 strikeouts (and, as always, another World Series ring), but ~120 innings of Kershaw and no guarantee of a healthy season or adequate help in the postseason? That's really nothing to fret over.
If Kershaw comes back, amazing. He's probably a Dodger for Life and we can watch him achieve a few more milestones before his career is over. If he departs for the Rangers? It'll be sad, but perhaps a reflection on the Dodgers' failures from 2017-present day, excluding 2020.
If he retires? Nothing anybody can do about it. And whether he's with the Dodgers or not, the front office still needs to replace 'vintage Kershaw' for 2024. We can talk about his impressive numbers in limited action (he's missed ~20 starts over the last two years), but it's probably doing more harm than good.
His lack of availability is putting strain on the rest of the rotation as well as the bullpen. He's averaged 5.2 innings per start since the beginning of 2021. That is not an ace. That's a mid-rotation arm and it's not conducive to success in October.
This time, Clayton Kershaw's uncertain future should have no effect on Dodgers
Kershaw's return to LA should be treated as a bonus or a rotation-lengthening luxury. It shouldn't be treated as a necessity. It shouldn't affect the rest of the team's offseason planning, much like it did last offseason. Feel free to fill up the rotation with capable arms before the left-hander makes his decision. He knows he'll be welcomed back under any circumstance. He knows his health issues impact what the team is able to accomplish.
As he heads into his age-36 season, Kershaw will enter 2024 having eight straight seasons with no more than 178.1 innings pitched. Five of those featured fewer than 161.1 innings. He couldn't even get through the shortened 2020 season unscathed (he missed two starts out of 12).
Kershaw is unquestionably one of the greatest to ever step foot on a mound, but treating him as if he's the 2015 version of himself is a disservice to all involved. It puts more unnecessary pressure on the aging veteran. It inaccurately projects the future performance of the most important aspect of the roster. It leaves the Dodgers ill-equipped for October.
Let Kershaw hang out until he's comfortable making a choice, but don't let his potential departure or return factor into anything. Depth has been the Dodgers' biggest problem over the last two years, and Kershaw's been at the forefront of it.
Shohei Ohtani? Yoshinobu Yamamoto? Blake Snell? Jordan Montgomery? Aaron Nola? Corbin Burnes? Any other mid-tier options you like? Sign, sign, trade, sign, sign. Whatever it takes. Kershaw could come back whether there are six starters in tow. He could leave if the rotation is barren. His decision shouldn't have the Dodgers hesitating about anything.