After the World Series ends this autumn, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw can become a free agent for the first time in his career. He has yet to tip his hand about his intentions, but his seven-year, $215-million contract features an opt-clause that can be exercised after the 2018 season. Kershaw could join a free-agent class that includes Washington slugger Bryce Harper, Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado and Cleveland closer Andrew Miller.
The Dodgers have already begun to operate with Kershaw's free agency in mind. When the organization acquired Matt Kemp from Atlanta in December, the team reset its luxury-tax number beneath the $197-million threshold so they can face less harsh penalties for spending next winter.
The Dodgers may not be in the dark, but team officials have little interest in shedding light on the situation. General manager Farhan Zaidi declined to provide insight into his team's perspective on Kershaw's free agency, other than to say the two sides maintain an "open dialogue."
"He's our franchise player," Zaidi said.
Since Zaidi and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman took over before the 2015 season, the Dodgers have not handed out a contract more expensive than Kenley Jansen's $80-million pact. The team made a nine-figure offer to Zack Greinke after the 2015 season, but declined to match Arizona's $206.5-million proposal.
The organization has taken steps to retain its own players. After the 2016 season, the Dodgers doled out $192 million to re-sign Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and pitcher Rich Hill. Kershaw alone might cost more than that. But the Dodgers are expected to be competitive in the bidding for their seven-time All-Star and three-time National League Cy Young Award winner.
Kershaw has insisted his impeding decision will not distract him during the season. He has treated this spring like those which proceeded it.
On Tuesday, Kershaw completed a session of live batting practice. The first pitch of his spring met an unfortunate demise. Yasiel Puig cracked it into center field to open the session of live batting practice. On a chilly day at Camelback Ranch, Kershaw did not expect an ambush.
"I probably should have," Kershaw said. "I didn't realize they faced guys yesterday. Second day, they were ready to go. That's going to be my excuse today."
During an inning of work, there were a few other instances of hard contact. Puig smashed a grounder toward third base. Chris Taylor hit a similar grounder to the right side and hit a line drive into center.
At this juncture of the spring, a day after the first official workout, the results matter little. Kershaw maintained that perspective as he pondered his outing. He is expected to make his Cactus League debut either Sunday or Monday. He described his session as "not great, but physically, felt great. The pitching side of it needs a little work."
Kershaw is on track to start his eighth consecutive opening day for the Dodgers, which will be a franchise record for a pitcher.
He is following his usual spring schedule, with only small tweaks.
"Really, everybody is here for us," Kershaw said. "Honestly. The starting pitchers need to go an inning at a time, four or five times. And that takes three or four weeks. There's not much you can do.
"Normally, I think I would throw two innings in this. And I think my next time, I'm going to throw one inning my first time out, as opposed to two. Little stuff, but ultimately, I don't think it matters. Come March 29, I don't think anybody is going to care where you're at right now."
Font to start Cactus League opener
Wilmer Font will start the Cactus League opener against the White Sox on Friday at Camelback Ranch.
Manager Dave Roberts expects Font to go two innings. Ross Stripling will start one of the two games in Saturday's split-squad doubleheader against the Giants and the Royals.
Font, a 27-year-old right-hander, pitched well for triple-A Oklahoma City in 2017, his first season as a Dodger. He went 10-8 with a 3.48 earned-run average in 25 starts. He struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings.
Font was less successful in a brief big-league stint in September. He posted a 17.18 ERA in three appearances.
Heading into 2018, Font is considered back of the team's back-end pitching depth, behind Stripling and Brock Stewart, who will serve as the primary understudies for the five regulars in the starting rotation. Font could also compete for a spot in the bullpen, Roberts said.