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Clayton Kershaw’s Dodger career might actually be over

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The greatest pitcher in Dodger history could be wearing a different uniform next season.

National League Championship Series Game 6: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Atlanta Braves Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

A little more than a week ago, there were some stunning refusals to extend qualifying offers. The White Sox declined to give a qualifying offer to Carlos Rodón, and the Rockies didn’t extend one to Jon Gray. Neither of these were as sobering as the Dodgers decision to not extend Clayton Kershaw a qualifying offer.

Kershaw posted a 3.00 FIP over 122 23 innings this season, so at first glance, this has less to do with performance and more to do with his health. The future Hall of Famer missed the postseason with a flexor issue, and this was after missing two months with a forearm injury. Dodgers president of baseball operations explained that Kershaw “wants to take a little time with (his wife) Ellen and figure out what’s best for them.” The Dodgers not wanting to put a deadline on Kershaw calms the fears that his injury is worse than it appears, but this isn’t a decision they make if he’s perfectly healthy.

A return to the Dodgers isn’t out of the question, but it’s less likely than the other times Kershaw was at the end of a contract. If Kershaw’s career with the Dodgers is over, he’ll still wind up the franchise rWAR leader with 71.9. He’s 27 strikeouts behind Don Sutton on the Dodger strikeout leaderboard, and Sutton threw nearly 1400 more innings in Dodger blue. Kershaw also owns three of the 10 best Dodger seasons by ERA+. If he’s not the greatest Dodger ever, he’s the best Dodger pitcher.

Los Angeles will have one more spot in the rotation to fill as Walker Buehler and Julío Urías are the only two surefire locks for Opening Day. Dustin May won’t return from Tommy John until midseason. Command issues and injuries plagued Tony Gonsolin’s 2021 and dulled his future a bit. David Price couldn’t command a rotation spot when the Dodgers were hurting for starters.

If Kershaw doesn’t re-sign with the Dodgers, the next likeliest landing spot is with the Texas Rangers. Kershaw lives in Dallas over the offseason, and he grew up in the area. The Rangers could also use a pitcher of his caliber to provide leadership to a young rotation. Texas starters ranked 28th in ERA and FIP in 2021, but there’s plenty of potential in Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn. Texas would probably need to sign him to a multi-year deal if Kershaw is to be part of the next great Rangers ballclub, but they have the payroll to make that happen.

There’s been some speculation that Kershaw could retire, but it seems like if he wanted to do that, he’d have done it by now. Even if Kershaw is planning on hanging it up if he doesn’t get an offer from LA or Texas, it’s hard to imagine both teams passing him up. I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Clayton Kershaw though I suspect retirement is more likely than him signing with a team that isn’t the Rangers or the Dodgers.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.