With the Los Angeles Dodgers finally being put out of their misery and getting swept out of the playoffs, they are entering an offseason with a healthy amount of uncertainty. The pitching staff is particularly rough to wrap one's head around going into 2024. Julio Urías is hitting free agency and there's a chance his career is done, Walker Buehler is trying to come back from another serious arm injury. Dustin May, too. Tony Gonsolin too! The list goes on and on. But the biggest domino that has to fall is the future of Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers.
While no one realistically thinks that Kershaw is going to hit the free agent market and play somewhere other than LA in 2024, it isn't crazy to think that he may call it quits altogether. He just finished his 16th season in the big leagues and, while he was still awesome with a 2.46 ERA and strikeout/walk rates you'd like to see, his workload is having to be managed a lot more these days with the old man pains and nagging injuries piling up over time.
It sure doesn't help that the Dodgers look very vulnerable as a roster right now going into 2024. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are great and James Outman and Bobby Miller are exciting young guys, but this isn't the same Dodgers team that's previously boasted depth throughout the roster. That lack of depth proved costly in 2023 and especially in the playoffs where LA was completely outclassed by a hungry Diamondbacks team. At this stage of his career, does Kershaw really want to put his body through another season when the Dodgers could be weaker than they've been in a long time?
Clayton Kershaw free agency is a problem for Dodgers in many ways
There's basically no question that LA would love to have Kershaw back for at least another season and that may be the most likely outcome here. Coming back for 2024 would give him a year to say all of his farewells and be appreciated for everything he has done as a Dodger. Not to mention, he can hit the 3,000 stirkeout mark in Dodger Blue. He made $20 million in 2023 and LA would likely be thrilled to bring him back for that amount in 2024.
However, the pain of another early playoff exit and the number of miles on his arm may finally be too much for him. And he deserves every bit of the benefit of the doubt with this forthcoming decision, as the Dodgers have stressed in the past. A quick decision would certainly be preferred because the Dodgers' offseason plans are really going to hinge on whether or not he's in the fold.
It's the worst kept secret in baseball that the Dodgers covet Shohei Ohtani, but he isn't going to be pitching in 2024 and the Dodgers' rotation is already looking barren as things stand right now. LA does have some intriguing young arms like Gavin Stone, Landon Knack, River Ryan, and Nick Frasso, but it's hard to hang your hat on those guys panning out, especially with a roster looking to contend next year.
If Kershaw was coming back, the Dodgers could maybe try to make things work with their young guns until Walker Buehler returns and be able to make upgrades elsewhere on the roster this offseason. However, if he does call it a career, everyone should fully expect them to make plays for the top arms in free agency like Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery in addition to their expected Ohtani pursuit.
Whatever his decision ends up being, Kershaw deserves to make it on his own. Getting shelled in a playoff game to end one's season is a tough pill to swallow, especially if this truly is the end of the line. However, Father Time is undefeated and unfortunately, it does look like Kershaw's time in LA could be coming sooner than anyone wants.