Dodgers fans enjoyed the club’s annual FanFest today, and among the festivities were comments from GM Brandon Gomes as well as several players. In addition to providing a handful of injury updates, Gomes discussed the future of longtime franchise face and generational hurler Clayton Kershaw during the event.
As relayed by The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya, Gomes told reporters that the door remains open for Kershaw to return to the only club he’s known throughout his illustrious 18-season professional career even after the Dodgers have spent the offseason completely retooling their rotation mix with the additions of right-handers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow as well as the more recent pickup of veteran southpaw James Paxton. Kershaw has long been expected to choose between either staying with the Dodgers or joining his hometown Rangers on the heels of the first World Series championship in franchise history, with ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez indicating that the expectation is that he’ll eventually sign a two-year deal with one of the two clubs.
“We continue to stay in touch with Clayton,” Gomes said (as relayed by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register), “and we’ll progress.”
Kershaw, of course, is among the greatest starters in MLB history. The southpaw has ten All Star appearances, three Cy Young awards, and an MVP award on his mantel and is just 66 batters set down away from 3,000 career strikeouts. Dominant as he’s been throughout his entire career, it’s worth noting that the lefty battled through injury in the second half last year. While he managed a sterling 2.23 ERA in that time, he struck out just 22.2% of batters faced in his final eight starts of the regular season while issuing free passes at an uncharacteristic 11.1% clip and never throwing more than 66 pitches during a start. The lefty’s 2023 season came to a close with a disastrous performance in Game 1 of the NLDS where he allowed six runs while recording just one out.
Shortly after the season wrapped up, Kershaw announced that he had undergone surgery on the gleno-humeral ligaments and capsule of his left shoulder. At the time, Kershaw said that he hoped to return “sometime” during the summer of 2024 before indicating back in December that his recovery process was going “really well.” While there have been no updates to the contrary to this point, MLB.com’s Juan Toribio recently offered a more specific timeline for Kershaw’s return to the mound, reporting that the lefty isn’t expected to pitch in the majors until “at least August.” That timeline is on the later end of the summer estimate provided at the time of Kershaw’s surgery, but would still give the lefty ample time to gear up for another crack at the postseason.
Given Kershaw’s lengthy timeline for return, it’s not necessarily surprising that neither side appears to have much urgency in putting pen to paper. Plunkett noted that the Dodgers will be able to put players who expected to miss at least the first two months of the season onto the 60-day IL, thus opening up their 40-man roster spot for the duration of their injury, starting on February 8. With that date less than a week away, it’s hard to imagine Kershaw being officially added to the roster- and thus requiring a corresponding 40-man move- before then, though it’s certainly possible Kershaw’s free agency could extend well beyond that date as well.
Setting aside Kershaw, Gomes made note of one hurler already under contract who’s poised to start the season on the shelf: right-hander Walker Buehler. The GM noted (as relayed by Plunkett) that Buehler’s return to a major league mound for the first time since June of 2022 will be “slow-played”, with both Gomes himself and (per Ardaya) manager Dave Roberts indicating that the righty is likely to start his 2024 campaign late. With that being said, Gomes makes clear that Buehler is not currently a candidate to start the season on the 60-day IL, indicating the club could stand to welcome Buehler back into the rotation mix fairly early into the 2024 campaign.
That the club might look to delay Buehler’s start to the season is hardly a surprise, given comments last month from Gomes noting that the Dodgers would be on a “flexible” innings limit of some sort throughout the year with an eye toward ensuring he’s available for the stretch run and a potential postseason push. It’s understandable that the Dodgers would place a premium on ensuring Buehler is healthy, as the right-hander was among the best starting pitchers in the league from 2018 to 2021, when he posted an excellent 2.82 ERA and 3.16 FIP across 564 innings of work. In the meantime, Buehler’s absence at the start of the season figures to open up a spot in the club’s Opening Day rotation alongside Yamamoto, Glasnow, Paxton, and sophomore righty Bobby Miller for one of the club’s young arms such as Emmet Sheehan or Gavin Stone.
In terms of more positive injury updates, Gomes told reporters (including Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times) that infielder Gavin Lux is fully ready for Spring Training after missing the entire 2023 campaign due to a torn ACL suffered last February, while superstar slugger Shohei Ohtani has begun hitting although he has yet to resume throwing after undergoing elbow surgery back in September. Gonzalez adds that Ohtani himself told reporters that he is “very confident” he’ll be in the lineup on Opening Day, setting the stage for the international superstar to appear in the club’s March 20 game against the Padres in South Korea.
DiGiovanna also notes that Gomes expressed optimism regarding veteran right-hander Blake Treinen, who the GM said is “trending” towards a return after missing the entire 2023 campaign and throwing just five innings during the 2022 season. Treinen sports a sterling 2.49 ERA and 3.12 FIP in 229 appearances dating back to the 2018 season, and figures to be a key piece of the club’s bullpen if he manages to make a healthy return to the mound. That being said, the potential return of Treinen hasn’t stopped the Dodgers from pursuing bullpen additions this winter.