Hungry for another World Series, Clayton Kershaw believes he can pitch a full season

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up during a spring training baseball workout.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw warms up during a spring training baseball workout on Sunday.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

In the end, Clayton Kershaw’s decision came down to one simple factor.

Even after 14 MLB seasons, three Cy Young Awards, an MVP and a once-elusive World Series title, his primary motivation hasn’t changed. One of baseball’s ultimate competitors is still obsessed with winning.

That’s why the pitcher was back at Camelback Ranch on Sunday, his appearance sending a few hundred Dodgers fans into a frenzy on the afternoon his one-year, $17 million contract to return to the team was finalized on the first official day of spring training.


“At the end of the day, I wanted to be here and win a World Series,” Kershaw said. “I think the Dodgers give me the best chance to do that and I’m excited to be back.”

Clayton Kershaw has re-signed with the Dodgers for one year, and everyone in the organization appears excited and relieved he returned to the fold.

March 12, 2022

A free agent for the first time in his career this offseason, Kershaw fielded plenty of interest from other teams — especially the Texas Rangers, a club that is not only right near his home in Dallas, where Kershaw, his wife Ellen and their four children reside in the winter, but also a team run by one of his close friends in the sport, general manager Chris Young.

While the Dodgers always felt somewhat confident the soon-to-be 34-year-old would return — something president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman described on Sunday as the team’s top offseason priority — there were times that faith wavered, when some in the organization wondered if they’d ever see Kershaw’s No. 22 take the field with them again.

“I knew going into the lockout that it was favorable for us,” said Friedman, who wasn’t allowed to have contact with Kershaw during an MLB work stoppage that lasted from the start of December to Thursday. “But I didn’t know over that period of time, and him having a baby, if things would change. I had no idea.”

Friedman cited a news report from last month, in which a former teammate of Kershaw’s predicted the pitcher would join the Rangers, as casting further uncertainty. And Kershaw himself acknowledged that his decision did come down to the Rangers and Dodgers.

Clayton Kershaw looks on from the dugout during a game.
Clayton Kershaw is confident he can pitch a full season for the Dodgers.
(Aaron Doster / Associated Press)

By the time the lockout was over, however, Kershaw’s mind was made up. He wanted to come back to Los Angeles, where he’s hopeful of being ready for opening day next month and staying healthy over the course of the entire season after battling an elbow injury a year ago.

“I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t think I could pitch a full season and be ready to go,” he said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

After MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement was ratified on Thursday, ending the work stoppage after 99 days, Kershaw informed both Young and Friedman of his decision by the end of the night.

“Having to call CY as soon as the lockout ended and tell him what our decision was, it wasn’t an easy phone call,” Kershaw said. “But he understood.”

The conversation with Friedman had a different tone.

The Dodgers agreed to terms with infielder Hanser Alberto on a major league contract.

March 13, 2022

“Post-lockout, he was the first phone call I made,” Friedman said. “We worked quickly to get it done.”

Kershaw’s return was set into motion months earlier, when Friedman and the Dodgers decided at the beginning of the offseason not to give him a qualifying offer ahead of his impending free agency.


Had they done so, Kershaw would have been forced into a quick decision — having 10 days to either accept the one-year offer of $18.4 million, or decline it and risk his value on the open market being diminished by the fact another team would have been forced to give the Dodgers a draft pick to sign him.

“Credit to Andrew as well for not having to do the qualifying offer,” Kershaw said. “That was really nice … It just gave me time to figure it out.”

After that, Kershaw took his winter routine slowly, allowing his elbow extra time to heal from a significant late-season injury that forced him to miss the 2021 postseason and nearly required Tommy John surgery.

Clayton Kershaw pitches during a game.
Clayton Kershaw didn’t overwork himself during the the offseason as he rehabbed from injury.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

He didn’t pick up a baseball until New Year’s Day, and still hasn’t faced any live hitters (he’ll do that for the first time on Monday). But it didn’t take long for him to know his elbow was progressing well enough to pitch in 2022, eliminating any lingering thoughts he had about an early retirement from the sport.

“I wasn’t going to retire,” Kershaw said. “I mean, unless my elbow was really bad. But if I was healthy, I was going to play.”


He added: “As I started throwing in January, I started feeling better and better and every day I could throw more and I wasn’t as sore, then I threw off the mound a little more and kept bouncing back. I was like ‘Man, I’m healthy.’ ”

From there, Kershaw began to feel a pull to remain with the Dodgers.

He said that while the idea of being a one-franchise player is cool, it “didn’t play a big role in my decision.” The fact his 2021 season ended with an injury didn’t sway him much either.

Instead, it was all about his desire to “just win a World Series,” he reiterated. “Once my kids are older and getting in school [in Texas], the draw of being home more and keeping them in school is big. There’s no secret to that. But Ellen was on board, she wanted to do this again. … We’re a part of something special here. We know that.”

Joe Kelly, who spent the last three years in the Dodgers bullpen, reportedly has agreed to a two-year deal with the Chicago White Sox.

March 12, 2022

Now that he’s back with the Dodgers, Kershaw is aiming to be a key contributor again too.

He said Sunday that his elbow feels 100% and that, despite being a little behind in his throwing program compared to normal, he should still be ready for the start of the season in less than a month.

Looking back, he realizes he tried to push himself too hard last season, when he missed more than three months from July to September with left elbow inflammation before rushing back and reaggravating the injury during the Dodgers’ final series of the regular season.

Now that he had the chance to give his arm plenty of time to properly recover — he said all of the MRI exams he took over the weekend looked good — he’s confident he can handle the workload of a full season.


“I didn’t want to come back if I thought that there’s going to be a chance I get hurt,” he said. “Obviously health is unpredictable at times, but I’d rather not play than get paid and be hurt, honestly, at this point in my career.”

Indeed, after everything else he’s accomplished, Kershaw was once again making it clear that his sole pursuit now is achieving the ultimate team success again. One World Series title hasn’t completely quenched his competitive thirst. And he was steadfast in his belief the Dodgers gave him the best chance to get there.

“It’s kind of a blur right now, but it’s good to be here,” Kershaw said. “It’s good to be a Dodger again.”