Only one other team has made a bigger free-agent splash this offseason than the Texas Rangers, who reportedly have agreed to contracts with infielders Marcus Semien and Corey Seager in the past two days.
There’s no chance the Rangers could top the Mets by adding the best starting pitcher on the market; Steve Cohen and company already agreed to terms with right-hander Max Scherzer, and are well on their way to winning the offseason.
And yet, the Rangers still have a chance to have their best free-agent bonanza since landing Alex Rodriguez two decades ago by adding a huge name who most recently pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s time to bring Clayton Kershaw home.
Kershaw, who was born and raised in the Dallas area and turns 34 in March, is coming off his worst season in terms of results (a 3.55 ERA in just 22 starts) since he was a rookie in 2008. He also missed the playoffs with a left flexor tendon injury that was treated with an injection of plasma-rich platelets instead of surgery. He has logged nearly 2,500 career innings, so he’s got some miles on him. But his effectiveness remains; Kershaw’s strikeout percentage was slightly above his career average, and his expected results were in line with his career marks. He can still pitch at a high level, it’s just a matter of how much.
Few teams need starting pitching more than the Rangers, whose rotation finished 28th in ERA, 27th in strikeouts and dead last in hard contact allowed. They’ve already added right-hander Jon Gray in this free agency cycle, and righty Dane Dunning is a solid bet to improve on his first full season. It’s all written in pencil after that. Truthfully, the Rangers need to add at least two more starting pitchers in order to make a serious bid to compete for the playoffs in 2022. But it’s not like Semien and Seager only want to play for the money in their contracts; they could get similar dollars any number of the places. They’re also going to want to play on a winning team.
President of baseball operations Jon Daniels and general manager Chris Young have begun the job in earnest. But trying to transform a team that lost 102 games into a winner requires transformative players like Kershaw, and they don’t come along frequently.
The Rangers need effective starting pitching to compete, but they also could use the winning attitude and leadership someone like Kershaw brings just by being there. There’s little he hasn’t experienced, there’s nothing he hasn’t already won. The Rangers have gotten to the World Series before but never broken through to win it. It’s true that all he’s ever known as a professional is life with the Dodgers. They might be more motivated to keep Kershaw now that Scherzer is gone. So he won’t come cheap, it would be foolish to expect a hometown discount, and the Rangers would likely have to commit at least three years. But the money is there to be spent, and after winning it all two years ago, Kershaw could be ready for different challenges. At one point in his career, some identified Kershaw as someone who couldn’t ever win the big game. Kershaw would be highly motivated to show that he could help the Rangers -- a team with a similar reputation as a collective -- finally win the big one.
The Hall of Fame is a near-certainty for him. Kershaw has a ring, but bringing a championship to his hometown would be the exclamation point on his professional legacy.
The Rangers should do their part in making it happen by bringing Kershaw back home.