No one wearing Los Angeles Dodgers blue wants to think about it right now, but Wednesday could mark the final game for Clayton Kershaw pitching in a Dodgers uniform.
“You bring it to my attention and I guess it’s a reality,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said prior to his club’s 2-1, 13-inning victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series Tuesday at Dodger Stadium over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“For me, it’s just thinking about tonight and tomorrow with Clayton pitching for us. And so, I don’t want to get too far ahead of that, no.”
The subject is germane because Kershaw has an opt-out clause in his seven-year, $205 million contract after the postseason. He has two years remaining and the Dodgers still owe him $64 million — $32 million for 2019 and $33 million for ’20.
But he’s still keeping that choice close to the vest.
Has he made a decision, and if not, how much time after this Dodgers’ run is over does he have to make it?
“I have not made a decision,” he said before Game 4. “And to my understanding, you get 10 days after the World Series [to make it]. So, it should be a busy 10 days.”
The Dodgers evened the NLCS at 2-2, but could still find themselves on the outside of the World Series, looking in if they don’t win the best-of-seven series in the final two games at Milwaukee.
Thus, Game 5 will provide Kershaw a double punch: trying to keep his club’s World Series championship dream alive with the possibility that his Los Angeles tenure could be at an end, if not Wednesday, but perhaps after the Fall Classic.
“I’m trying not to think about all that,” Kershaw said. “It’s hard enough to try and win a postseason game. I, more than anybody, know that.”
Kershaw, at 30, is a depreciating asset. Because of back and left shoulder injuries his once exploding fastball has diminished as much as five miles per hour to the high 80s, low 90s.
Even with his strikeouts per nine innings decreasing from 10.4 in 2017 to 8.6 this past season, he’s still one tough dude, who mixes up his breaking pitches and spots his fastball to pitch deep into games.
In his mind’s eye, he may still think he’s a major commodity in the open market, which is typical of most elite athletes who are at the back of end of great careers and don’t want to see the writing chiseled on the outfield wall.
Considering his last two seasons and multiple long periods on the disabled list, he should take what the Dodgers owe him and worry about the free-agent market after the 2020 season.
Still, Kershaw sounds like a guy whose Dodger days already may be in the rearview mirror.
“Yeah, I’m incredibly grateful. I’m just thankful that I’ve gotten to be here this long,” he said. “I got drafted when I was 18. I got here when I was 20. From 20-to-30, that’s a lot of growing years right there.”
His postseason record during an 11-year career has not been stellar. He’s no David Price – the Boston Red Sox left-hander who’s never won a playoff game – but Kershaw is 8-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 133 postseason innings.
He’s always been better in the NL Division Series than the NLCS as his primary numbers attest: 5-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 12 NLDS games (11 starts), as opposed to 2-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 11 NLCS games (eight starts).
And that’s played itself out already this October.
He pitched eight shutout innings in a Game 2 home victory over the Atlanta Braves in the LDS as opposed to three innings in a Game 1 LCS loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.
There’s no telling what the results will be in Game 5, but Roberts said he expects the usual Kershaw approach.
“I expect the same intent that he has in every game he throws,” Roberts said. “The preparation started shortly after that last Milwaukee start and it’s going to be the same intensity, the same focus. And I expect there will be better execution. Nothing more, nothing less.”
There’s no telling, either, what the Dodgers might do if Kershaw should opt out.
Kershaw, who’s from Dallas, seems to be hoping for an offer from the Texas Rangers, to bring him back home to where he played his high school ball and where his family still lives in the offseason.
If that happens, the Dodgers may decide on their own opt out.
If history is any precedent, when Zack Greinke opted out of a six-year, $147 million deal with the Dodgers after a 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 2015 season, they let him walk to the Arizona Diamondbacks for six years, $206.5 million.
Greinke and Kershaw share the same agency – Excel Sports – and the same agent – Casey Close – who drew up similar contracts.
Draw your own conclusions.
Of course this is Kershaw, not Greinke. Like Sandy Koufax, a franchise icon.
There will be some emotions on both sides. In negotiations, certainly on the field in Game 5.
“I’ve gotten married, had two kids, played a lot of baseball and really have grown up in this city,” Kershaw said. “And whatever happens I’ll be thankful for that, always.”