When business resumes on the other side of Major League Baseball's lockout, one of the greatest pitchers in league history will still be looking for a contract.
Granted, Clayton Kershaw is not the same pitcher at 33 that he was during a heyday that saw him collect four league-wide ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards and an MVP. But amid a market for starting pitchers that was picked clean before the lockout, that he remains effective is good enough.
As for where the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers ace might land, we see seven teams that could make a run at Kershaw and ranked them according to how well he fits with each. There's also another possibility that, for reasons we'll get into, we left unranked.
First, let's start by sizing up the left-hander's value on the 2021-22 market.
What Is Kershaw's Value in Free Agency?
If you read that part about Kershaw being "one of" the greatest pitchers in MLB history and thought even that was underselling him, well, fair point.
Per his 155 ERA+, he's actually the greatest all-time among pitchers who've logged at least 2,400 innings in the majors. He was certainly at the height of his powers between 2011 and 2017, averaging 207 innings per season to go along with a 179 ERA+ and a 5.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Particularly to the extent that he finally won a World Series ring in 2020, the last four seasons haven't been entirely unkind to Kershaw. Yet his production has deteriorated, most notably in 2021. He pitched to a modest 115 ERA+ and made only 22 starts because of a bothersome forearm injury. He expects to be ready for spring training, but there's at least a little uncertainty there.
The Dodgers could have made Kershaw a qualifying offer worth $18.4 million, but they declined to do so. The official reasoning was that they didn't want "put him on that kind of clock when he wasn't ready for it." Unofficially, it could be because the club just didn't value him at $18.4 million for 2022.
It nonetheless wouldn't be surprising if Kershaw matched or even exceeded such a salary in what will likely be a one-year deal. Because in addition to his credentials and the thinness of the starting pitching market, he also has the benefit of not being tied to draft-pick compensation.
So, starting with one that would break Dodgers fans' hearts, let's discuss his possible suitors.
7. San Francisco Giants
Yes, we're going to seriously consider the possibility of Kershaw becoming a San Francisco Giant.
Oddly enough, the Dodgers' longest-running rivals actually can offer the lefty some familiarity. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler both used to work for the Dodgers. As he has a 1.52 ERA in 26 career appearances there, Oracle Park might also appeal to Kershaw.
The Giants might also sell Kershaw on how they're doing things these days. They won 107 games in 2021 largely because they squeezed more than anyone expected out of veteran players. Perhaps there's a way they could also do so with Kershaw in 2022.
More simply, the Giants plain need another starter. They retained Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood and also added Alex Cobb in free agency, but none of them is the top-of-the-rotation type they lost when Kevin Gausman departed for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Of course, the sheer wrongness of this idea can't be ignored. And it might actually mean something to Kershaw himself, who may not want to subject Dodgers fans to seeing him in black and orange.