Does Dodgers Signing James Paxton Affect Clayton Kershaw’s Future?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have taken an in-depth approach to addressing their starting pitching this offseason, which was an area of the roster that led to an early postseason exit the last two years.

Signing Shohei Ohtani put the Dodgers in a spot where the organization has a frontend option in 2025, but for the more immediate future, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow are going to lead the rotation.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ latest move was signing veteran James Paxton to a one-year contract worth a reported $11 million, with the potential to reach $13 million through incentives. Paxton finished the 2023 season on the injured list because of right knee inflammation, and in 19 starts for the Boston Red Sox had a 4.50 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1.31 WHIP and .247 batting average allowed.

Paxton still has the ability to touch the upper 90s with his fastball, and in his first 10 starts of the regular season this past year, he tallied a 2.73 ERA through 56 innings pitched. Paxton’s 10.29 strikeouts per nine and 2.25 walks per nine showed a peak outlook for what he brings to the mound.

That early stretch put Paxton on the radar for many teams in the trade market, including the Dodgers, but he stayed put with the Red Sox.

Can the Dodgers still sign Clayton Kershaw?

Paxton signing with the Dodgers at this juncture poses a question if the rotation has room for Clayton Kershaw in it. Even with the added depth, there certainly remains the possibility of acquiring another starter. Particularly Kershaw.

Following the signing of Yamamoto, Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes hinted at the possibility of a six-man rotation to put less of a strain on starters. That plan works for some teams, but only if they have the quality depth to handle it.

The Dodgers could greatly benefit from such a plan with Glasnow dealing with injury issues in the past, Yamamoto transitioning from the NPB schedule, and Walker Buehler returning from a second Tommy John surgery.

The biggest concern is will the Dodgers have enough arms to manage the six-man rotation without forcing themselves into a spot where bullpen games are a regular occurrence.

Emmet Sheehan, Michael Grove, Ryan Yarbrough and Gavin Stone could all contribute, which could be in the interim while Kershaw continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.

But the Dodgers have also set themselves up where Kershaw isn’t a need, although the door is still open for his return and the ball is still in his court if he wants to re-sign with the only franchise he’s known.

When healthy, Kershaw proven to be an effective and savvy starting pitcher with an ability to get big league outs. But health is the key for the southpaw.

Kershaw underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair the glenohumeral ligaments and capsule in his throwing shoulder, but the Dodgers remain interested despite the long recovery ahead. It’s unclear when exactly he’ll be ready, but the expectation is some time in the second half of the season.

While dealing with the shoulder injury last year, Kershaw unfortunately failed to remain an impactful arm when the playoffs opened up, enduring one of the most abruptly, disastrous outings of his Major League career.

He won’t be asked to be a frontend starter, which is unique for how much he was leaned on last year and throughout his Dodgers career. Once the Dodgers are able to put players on the 60-day injured list, there are a few moves that will open avenues for Kershaw to be re-signed and join the team for his 17th year.

How the Dodgers can implement Clayton Kershaw in 2024

Without the added weight of needing to pitch every fifth day, Kershaw could join the team when he is fully cleared and able to take on a semi-regular load.

Perhaps Kershaw would greatly benefit from a late start to his season and enter the playoffs with a fresh arm, but it also remains to be seen how effective he will be upon his return.

If the Dodgers were to re-sign Kershaw, he would open the season on the 60-day IL until he’s ready to return. From there, the Dodgers could slot him into the back of their rotation while helping manage some of the workloads of their other arms.

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