February 12: Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reports the specifics on Kershaw’s performance bonuses and escalators. The future Hall of Famer would earn a $1MM bonus for his sixth start next season, $1.5MM for each of his next three starts, and $2MM if he reaches 10 starts. A relief appearance in which he accrues at least nine outs also qualifies, protecting Kershaw in the event he follows an opener.
The $5MM base value of his 2025 player option would escalate based on his ’24 workload by the following amounts:
- $2MM for six starts
- $3MM apiece for seven through nine starts
- $4MM for 10 starts
If he exercises the option, the deal includes additional bonuses for 2025 depending on the number of starts he makes in each of the next two years.
February 9: Clayton Kershaw is heading back to the Dodgers. The team announced Friday that the left-hander has re-signed on a two-year guarantee — the second season of which is a player option. Kershaw, a client of Excel Sports Management, is recovering from November shoulder surgery and isn’t expected to pitch until the second half of the season, at the earliest. He’s reportedly guaranteed $10MM on the pact: $5MM in each season of the deal.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that Kershaw’s 2024 incentives are contingent on him making six to ten starts this season. Any increases to this year’s base salary will also be reflected in the value of his player option. Sherman further adds that between those escalators and incentives specific to the 2025 season, Kershaw could earn as much as $25MM in year two of the contract. That’d give him a total earning power of $37.5MM over the two years of the contract.
Kershaw can boost that 2024 salary to $12.5MM based on the number of games he starts this season. The number of games he starts can also boost the base value of his 2025 player option. Right-hander Tony Gonsolin was moved to the 60-day IL to open a 40-man roster spot for Kershaw. If and when the Dodgers need another 40-man spot, Kershaw himself can be transferred to the 60-day IL.
Assuming he’s able to suit up at some point in the second half, the 2024 season will be Kershaw’s 17th pitching for the Dodgers, who selected him with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2006 draft. Injuries have begun to take their toll on Kershaw, who hasn’t reached 30 starts in a season since 2015, but the quality of his results remains largely constant. From 2009-15, Kershaw averaged 32 starts per year, won four straight ERA titles and took home three Cy Young Awards. Since 2016, he’s averaged just 24 starts per 162-game season but maintained a brilliant 2.55 ERA — including sub-2.50 marks in three of the past four seasons.
Kershaw clearly wasn’t pitching at 100% for much of the 2023 season. A shoulder strain landed Kershaw on the injured list in July, and manager Dave Roberts candidly acknowledged in September that he was pitching at less than full strength. Los Angeles limited Kershaw to five innings per start for all but one start in his return from the injured list (a 5 1/3-inning outing in his final appearance of the season). Along the way, Kershaw’s average fastball dipped to career-low levels; he averaged just 89.4 mph on his fastball in his return — including just an 88.7 mph average through his final four starts.
Diminished velocity notwithstanding, Kershaw remained quite effective. In eight post-IL starts he turned in a pristine 2.23 ERA. His 22.2% strikeout rate and 11.1% walk rate were both a ways from his pre-injury levels (27.7%, 6.3%), but Kershaw looked to making the most of what he had to offer on any given day. He didn’t allow more than three runs in any of those final eight appearances and in fact held opponents to one or zero runs in six of them. The D-backs ambushed him for six runs in the first inning of his lone NLDS start, however, ending his season on a low point.
It’s not yet clear when Kershaw might be able to rejoin the Dodgers’ staff, though they’ll presumably provide an update when announcing his deal and discussing it with the media. A returning Kershaw in the second half will provide some high-end insurance for a Dodgers rotation that is teeming with uncertainty. Right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be adjusting to a new culture and a new league in his debut campaign this year. Right-hander Walker Buehler is in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Southpaw James Paxton is a perennial injury risk. Young righties Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone and Kyle Hurt haven’t pitched full big league seasons.
As already noted, Kershaw won’t be the only potential second-half addition for the Dodgers. The aforementioned May underwent a Tommy John revision and flexor tendon repair in early July but could potentially be back for the stretch run. Gonsolin, who underwent Tommy John surgery in late August, feels like a longer shot to make it back but could potentially do so in a bullpen capacity if his rehab plays out in a best-case scenario.
The Dodgers are set to pay the luxury tax for a third straight season and are already well into the final tier of luxury tax penalization. As such, any dollars committed to Kershaw will be taxed at a 110% rate. That apparently won’t be a deterrent as they welcome the future Hall of Famer back for a 17th season.
In 2712 2/3 innings though his big league career, Kershaw owns a 210-92 record, a 2.48 ERA, a 27.6% strikeout rate and a 6.3% walk rate. He’s a ten-time All-Star with five NL ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP Award under his belt.
Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the Dodgers and Kershaw had reached an agreement. The Athletic’s Andy McCullough reported the presence of a 2025 player option. Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic reported the terms of the deal.