Clayton Kershaw is back, but Dodgers miss out on Justin Verlander
Last season, the Dodgers won 111 games. They had a Cy Young Award finalist. They boasted the best rotation earned-run average in Major League Baseball.
Still, as this offseason has progressed, their need for more starting pitching has been clear.
And though they did the expected Monday morning, officially re-signing Clayton Kershaw to a one-year, $20-million contract on the first day of the league’s winter meetings, they failed to pull off the spectacular, losing out in the Justin Verlander sweepstakes after news broke that the free-agent pitcher will be signing with the New York Mets.
Kershaw’s return had been in the works for weeks, ever since news emerged last month that the sides were close to a deal that would keep the three-time Cy Young Award winner in Los Angeles for a 16th season.
Though the Dallas native again considered signing with his hometown Texas Rangers, he said he and his wife, Ellen, decided pretty quickly into the offseason to return to the Dodgers. He added that the only reason his contract hadn’t been finalized sooner was that he had been “procrastinating” getting MRI exams to complete his physical.
“It just feels great to come back,” he said. “I feel like this is where we needed to be. This is where we want to be. And it just feels like we’re not done yet.”
Just as news of Kershaw’s contract dropped Monday morning, Verlander’s agreement with the Mets suddenly shook the league’s offseason landscape.
Coming off his third Cy Young-winning season last year, Verlander will reportedly ink a two-year deal in New York that is worth $86 million guaranteed and includes an option for a third year.
In doing so, Verlander will also be spurning the Dodgers, who had emerged as a finalist in his free agency in recent weeks.
The Dodgers have freed up about $70 million so far this offseason. Are they amassing a war chest to sign New York Yankees free agent Aaron Judge?
Verlander would have filled an important need for the Dodgers, who even with Kershaw back in the fold remain a starter short for 2023.
They already lost one All-Star, Tyler Anderson, in free agency after he signed with the Angels last month. They’ll likely be without another, Walker Buehler, for all of next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
They still have Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. They also have several top prospects in Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller knocking on the door of the big league roster, although they might make more sense for depth roles to start the season.
To fill the last spot, the Dodgers seemed to have a number of options. Verlander, however, was the biggest name they were pursuing.
Last Monday, Verlander had a meeting with Dodgers officials that one person with knowledge of the situation described as going “very well.”
In the days since, speculation about Verlander going to Los Angeles — where he and his wife, model Kate Upton, reportedly have a home — heated up around the league as well.
The Dodgers were one of the few teams with enough financial muscle to sign Verlander, especially after clearing more than $100 million from their payroll this offseason.
Even after Kershaw’s re-signing, their estimated luxury tax payroll stands at around $189 million, according to Fangraphs — still $44 million shy of the league’s first tax threshold.
However, it’s unclear whether the Dodgers were willing to match the length of the Mets’ offer to Verlander, who will turn 40 next season and missed all of 2021 because of Tommy John surgery.
Now, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office will have to shift their focus to other alternatives.
Carlos Rodón is the best pitcher remaining on the free-agent market, and has already received interest from the Dodgers, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The competition for his signature could be fierce, though, with the left-hander reportedly seeking a six-year contract that could pay upwards of $30 million annually.
The team could also pursue cheaper veteran free-agent pitchers in hopes they could flourish in Los Angeles, similar to what it did with Anderson and Andrew Heaney this past year.
The trade market is another avenue potentially worth pursuing, with several top pitchers — including Pablo López of the Miami Marlins, a right-hander the team discussed at the trade deadline — believed to be available.
While talking with reporters Monday night, Friedman was coy about the team’s specific plans, only reiterating that the club will try to be opportunistic as it proceeds through the winter.
The Dodgers and Angels are among the teams active in transactions as the MLB winter meetings pick up pace Monday in San Diego.
“We feel really good about the group that we have in place now. We have some work to do to supplement around it and add more talent around it,” he said. “Whether through the trade market or through the free-agent market, there’s still a lot of really good players out there. And that’s where we’ve shifted our focus and attention.”
For now, though, only two things are certain.
The Dodgers rotation will include Kershaw once again next year, but still needs more help before the winter ends.
Trea Turner reportedly joins Phillies
The Dodgers had a tie to the other big deal that occurred Monday, as former shortstop Trea Turner reportedly agreed to an 11-year, $300-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies that will bring his tenure in Los Angeles to an end.
Turner’s departure didn’t come as a shock, after he and the team failed to make much progress on a potential contract extension following his trade to the Dodgers at the 2021 deadline.
“We had a lot of different conversations over the last year with his camp,” Friedman said. “We had a pretty good feel for what they were looking for. They had a pretty good feel for where we were. At times, it’s kind of what makes the world go round.”
With Turner gone, Friedman said the club will continue to evaluate other shortstop targets available through free agency or a trade — “there’s still a lot of really good players on the market,” he said — but also reiterated the team’s comfort with sliding Gavin Lux to shortstop, as well.
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