As the Los Angeles Dodgers square off with the Milwaukee Brewers in a highly competitive NLCS, a big question mark surrounding their future looms over the City of Angels. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause that will allow him to become a free agent after this season and the star left-handed pitcher has yet to commit to a decision either way.
If the prized ace does elect to forego the final two years of his contract and get a taste of free agency, nearly every team in the sport will be lining up with checkbooks in hand — including the Washington Nationals. It just so happens that the Nats are in need of a left-handed starter, making Kershaw a natural fit to help carry the team back to the postseason.
It’s a fun thought: Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg headlining a postseason rotation that would be the envy of the rest of the league. After all, this trio is just one year removed from finishing in each of the top three spots of the NL Cy Young voting.
There haven’t been any reports connecting Kershaw to Washington, but the former hasn’t given anyone — including the Dodgers themselves — any indication of what he plans to do this offseason. Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported Thursday that Kershaw plans to opt out of the deal, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t re-sign with Los Angeles.
If the Nationals have any shot at luring Kershaw to the District, there first has to be interest in the future Hall of Famer’s camp. The Los Angeles Times speculated the Dallas native could eye the Texas Rangers as a potential suitor, but the team remains far away from postseason contention after finishing 36 games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West this season. Beyond Arlington, it’s anyone’s guess where Kershaw has a preference toward.
Washington could try to make D.C. more attractive by filling their hole at catcher with free-agent backstop A.J. Ellis, who was Kershaw’s personal catcher on the Dodgers from 2012-16. While Ellis isn’t the offensive-minded player the Nats might be looking for, the team sees potential in rookie Spencer Kieboom and could want to see him split time with a veteran behind the plate.
As most free-agent signings do, this decision also comes down to the money. The Nationals could afford to stomach $30 million a year if it meant getting Kershaw, but that would likely close the book on Bryce Harper’s tenure in Washington. It could also come down to a simple allocation of salary, as the Nats have $246 million locked up over the next four years to Scherzer and Strasburg alone.
However, Strasburg’s contract includes opt outs of his own following each of the next two seasons. Kershaw could serve as a safety net in case Strasburg decides to depart for greener pastures. The Nationals have several up-and-coming position players in their minor-league ranks but their pitching depth thinned considerably when they traded three of their top arms for Adam Eaton in 2016.
Barring a blockbuster Harper deal, Washington will have a different look heading into the 2019 season. After earning the title of “most disappointing team of 2018” and seeing a large chunk of their payroll depart via trades and free agency, the Nationals are as good a candidate as any to make the biggest splash of the offseason. Perhaps Kershaw is the missing piece that can finally take them to the next level.