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Andrew Friedman says Dodgers 'really want' to work things out with Clayton Kershaw
AP

Andrew Friedman says Dodgers 'really want' to work things out with Clayton Kershaw

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Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the second inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 3, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the second inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 3, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images/TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The Texas Rangers are expected to aggressively pursue Clayton Kershaw this winter and can offer the free-agent left-hander something the Dodgers can't — a chance for the three-time Cy Young Award winner to play near his Dallas-area home and not have to uproot his family every spring.

The Dodgers, despite not extending an $18.4 million qualifying offer to the franchise icon, do not intend to go down without a fight.

"We really want Kersh to come back — not only because of what he's meant to us looking back, but what he'll mean for us going forward," Andrew Friedman, the team's president of baseball operations, said Tuesday on the first day of baseball's general manager meetings.

"That being said … he has to figure out what's best for him and his family. There's a personal and professional tug of war for me. Professionally, I really hope he's back. Personally, I want him to do what makes the most sense for his family, and we'll figure out what that means."

Kershaw, 33, has played his entire 14-year career in Los Angeles, building a Hall of Fame resume that includes a 185-84 record and 2.49 ERA, 2,670 strikeouts, one National League most valuable player award to go with his Cy Young awards, eight All-Star selections and five ERA titles.

But the Dodgers did not sign Kershaw to a contract extension this season, and Kershaw, whose three-year, $93 million deal expired after the Dodgers lost the NL Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves, did not express a desire to finish out his career in Los Angeles or to leave.

Clouding Kershaw's future and free agency is an elbow injury that sidelined him for 10 weeks from July to September as well as the entire postseason.

Kershaw, who described the injury as a "flexor [tendon] issue," received a platelet-rich plasma injection in October, but major league pitchers have had mixed results with the procedure.

Shohei Ohtani, Andrew Heaney, Garrett Richards and Chris Sale are among the current pitchers who had PRP injections, only to later have Tommy John surgery.

Kershaw will turn 34 next spring and has racked up some serious mileage, having thrown 2,454 2/3 regular-season innings and the equivalent of another full season — 189 innings in 37 games — in the playoffs.

But Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said in October that scans showed no damage to Kershaw's ulnar collateral ligament, and the team is confident Kershaw will return to full strength.

Kershaw pitched well when he was healthy in 2021, going 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts, striking out 144 and walking 21 in 121 2/3 innings.

"We believe that he is going to be healthy and ready to go on opening day," said Friedman, who added that Kershaw has not started throwing yet. "From his standpoint, he wants to get there and get throwing and get off the mound."

The Dodgers already have about $207 million in competitive balance tax payroll commitments for 2022, and they plan to pursue several players from their list of high-profile free agents, which includes shortstop Corey Seager, pitcher Max Scherzer, closer Kenley Jansen and All-Star utility man Chris Taylor.

It seems risky to guarantee a hefty one- or two-year deal to a starting pitcher who could break down next spring. A contract with lower base salaries and lucrative incentives for games started would make more sense for the Dodgers.

"Hopefully we're able to roll up our sleeves with him and figure that out, and we're very optimistic we'll be able to figure that out," Friedman said. "If he wants to come back, we definitely want him back."

The rebuilding Rangers, who went 60-102 and finished 35 games out in the American League West, have only $40.5 million in CBT payroll commitments for 2022, so they can afford to gamble on Kershaw. They can also tug on Kershaw's heartstrings.

Kershaw played baseball and football at Highland Park High in the North Dallas suburb of University Park, Texas, and lives there in the offseason with his wife, Ellen, and three children, Cali (6), Charley (5) and Cooper (1 1/2). Kershaw is also a close friend of Rangers general manager Chris Young.

The Dodgers can appeal to Kershaw's insatiable desire to win. They've won eight division titles in nine years, played in the 2017 and 2018 World Series and won the 2020 championship. They can also offer Kershaw the chance to play his entire career with one of baseball's most storied franchises.

"If he wants to come back, we will absolutely work together to make that happen," Friedman said. "And if he doesn't, for whatever reason, he's earned that right, that prerogative. He is going to drive a lot of what he wants to do next year. The ball is in his court."

Avoiding limbo

Roberts, entering the final year of the four-year extension he signed before 2019, said after the season that he was "kind of expecting, hoping," that the Dodgers make another contract offer so he can avoid being a lame-duck manager in 2022.

The interest appears to be mutual, but discussions regarding a possible extension have not begun, and Roberts' contract does not appear to be a front-burner issues for the club.

"I said this at the beginning of the offseason — he's been a big part of what we have accomplished looking back, and I expect him to be a big part of what we accomplish looking forward," Friedman said of Roberts, the target of constant criticism despite leading the Dodgers to five division titles, one World Series title and three NL pennants in six years.

"For us, we have a lot of near-term things with people who we aren't sure are going to be here, that we're working through. I'm sure it's something we'll have conversations on some point."

Short hops

Any talks with free-agent closer Kenley Jansen, who bounced back from three subpar seasons to go 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves in 69 games this season, striking out 86 and walking 36 in 69 innings, will come with assurances that the 34-year-old right-hander will retain his closing role. "For me, if he's back, it would be in the ninth inning," Friedman said. … Dustin May, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May, has begun his throwing program, and Friedman said the hard-throwing right-hander is on track to return after the All-Star break or in August of 2022.

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