CARLSBAD, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers' decision not to tender a qualifying offer to Clayton Kershaw is not an indication that the team is predisposed to letting him leave.
Quite the opposite, it seems.
"We've made it very clear that if Kershaw wants to come back, he will always have a spot," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Tuesday from the site of the general managers meetings.
The Dodgers extended qualifying offers to shortstop Corey Seager and utility man Chris Taylor on Sunday, a method that rewards teams with draft-pick compensation if those players sign elsewhere. Players have until the middle of next week to decide whether to accept the offer, which will pay them $18.4 million for the 2022 season, or reject it. Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who is arguably the greatest player in Dodgers history, didn't receive one, largely because of the uncertainty surrounding the health of his left arm.
Kershaw, 33, missed more than two months with elbow/forearm inflammation that popped up around the All-Star break. He returned in the middle of September, but exited his Oct. 1 start with a recurrence of the same issue and was unavailable throughout the postseason. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said then that Kershaw's ulnar collateral ligament is structurally sound and that he does not require Tommy John surgery, but it seems as though there is still a fear that he could be dealing with a long-term injury.
"I know he wants to take a little time with Ellen [his wife] to figure out what's best for them, and also more importantly get to a point where he feels good health-wise," Friedman said. "We have no reason to believe that he won't. But in his mind, he wants to get to that point, where he feels good from a health standpoint, and go from there. This [the qualifying offer] would have accelerated the timeline in a way that he wasn't ready for, and I think just from our respect for him, and what he's done for this organization, that wasn't something that we wanted to do and put him on that kind of clock when he wasn't ready for it."
The Dodgers agreed on a one-year, $8.5 million contract with another left-handed starter, Andrew Heaney, over the weekend, adding him to a 2022 rotation that is currently fronted by Walker Buehler and Julio Urias. Tony Gonsolin and David Price also could be part of the mix, but the Dodgers will express heavy interest in bringing back Max Scherzer and might be in play for other big names in free agency. Trevor Bauer, who remains under criminal investigation over sexual assault allegations, is not expected to return to the team, regardless of the length of a potential suspension by Major League Baseball, though the Dodgers have yet to comment on the matter publicly.
Friedman expressed enthusiasm about the emerging crop of young starting pitchers at the organization's minor league levels and said his goal in filling out the 2022 rotation is to "bridge the short term, not lock up pitching spots looking out and preventing opportunities."
Kershaw, who would probably prefer a short-term deal, perfectly fits that strategy -- if he's healthy, if he wants to keep pitching and if his hometown Texas Rangers don't ultimately sway him.
"We've been very outspoken that we really want Kersh to come back," Friedman said. "Not only what he's meant to us looking back, but also what we think he will mean for us looking forward. That being said -- just like every free agent, but Kersh even a little bit more so -- he has earned the right to be in this position and figure out what's best for him and his family. So there's like a personal and a professional tug of war for me. Professionally I really hope he's back, personally I want them to do what makes the most sense for their family, and we'll figure out what that means."