Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw finalize one-year deal

The Dodgers’ first deal during this year’s annual winter meetings?

Official signing of their longest-serving player.

On Monday morning, the team announced it had inked pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a one-year, $20 million deal for the 2023 season, officially ensuring the three-time Cy Young Award winner is in Los for a 16th season Angeles will stay.

Kershaw’s return has been expected for weeks since it was announced last month that the sides were close to an agreement for the free-agent pitcher.

The only reason his contract had not been finalized earlier, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly, was to terminate an investigation.

But now that it’s done, Kershaw will re-enter a starting rotation that remains a focus area for the Dodgers this week when the league’s winter meetings begin in downtown San Diego.

Even with Kershaw on the roster, the Dodgers appear to be a starter short for the 2023 season.

They’ve already lost an All-Star, Tyler Anderson, to free agency after he signed with the Angels last month. They’ll probably be without another, Walker Buehler, for the whole of next year as he recovers from Tommy John’s surgery.

The team is also awaiting the outcome of Trevor Bauer’s appeal of a two-year suspension, the outcome of which could impact payroll flexibility this winter.

With Kershaw’s signing, the luxury tax team’s estimated payroll is approximately $189 million — still $44 million less than the first tax line.

Kershaw’s return will no doubt help.

Even during his season at the age of 34 last year, the left-hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball when he was healthy. He went 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA. He started the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. And despite two stints on the injury list with back problems, he ended the season with a tear, giving up just seven heats in his last seven regular season starts.

His fastball lost some life. He relies on his slider more than ever. But even as he progresses through the twilight of his future Hall of Famer career, Kershaw’s continued success on the mound made him a priority for the Dodgers this offseason.

“Things in the world just feel more right,” Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said earlier this month, “when Kershaw is in a Dodgers uniform.”

To keep Kershaw in a Dodgers uniform, the team had to fend off a threat from the Texas Rangers for a second straight offseason. During Kershaw’s first free-hand foray last winter, he re-signed in Los Angeles but said Rangers finished a close second.

This year it was evident that Texas was interested again, leaving Kershaw’s future unclear as the offseason began.

But after the Dodgers earlier this month refused to make Kershaw a qualifying offer — a courtesy they gave Kershaw last winter — the team and pitcher quickly struck an agreement on a new deal.

Kershaw will now rejoin a rotation that is also expected to include Cy Young Award finalist Julio Urías, All-Star Tony Gonsolin and a perfectly healthy Dustin May.

How the Dodgers will complete this group remains to be seen.

One option the Dodgers might consider: Giving the spot to one of their aspiring prospects, with Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller all being considered possible MLB staffers in 2023. However, these pitchers could also benefit from more time in the minors, which will likely serve them as depth options for the 2023 start.

As of Monday morning, the Dodgers appeared to have options.

And with Kershaw officially retained, the team can face the winter knowing there’s only one key rotational opening to fill this offseason. Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw finalize one-year deal

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