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Clayton Kershaw struggles in Dodgers’ 4-1 loss

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The good news? Clayton Kershaw is back on a major league mound. It’s been a long 75 days, made even longer by the Dodgers’ constant retooling of the rotation. The bad news? Kershaw’s first appearance for the Dodgers looked like this:

It’s not as if the Marlins have been particularly hot lately, going 7-3 in their last 10 games and placing fifth-lowest in total runs scored, but as with any return from an injury, it’s difficult to project any kind of success right out of the gate — even for the best in the game.

Kershaw delivered 66 pitches over three innings, getting ensnared in a long at-bat that was punished by a Jeff Francoeur double and even longer at-bats that, mercifully, culminated in several of the lefty’s five strikeouts. After J.T. Realmuto’s home run in the first inning, Kershaw let just one more run slip by on a line drive by Miami infielder Chris Johnson.

While Kershaw’s velocity was up, superseding even his season averages on his fastball, slider, and curveball, his command was shaky at best. Despite not allowing any walks, his belt-high sliders made easy targets for the Marlins’ lineup. It was hardly the dominant showing the Dodgers have come to expect from their ace, one for whom a nine-pitch inning is less of a fantasy and more of a reality.

Assuming that Kershaw doesn’t break out with another no-hit attempt in his next start, which should be Wednesday against the Yankees, the Dodgers are no longer in a place where they have to rest their hopes for a playoff berth on his shoulders. Getting a healthy ace back in the rotation on a consistent basis would bolster their place atop the NL West, but the contributions they’ve received from Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, and Jose De Leon should keep them in the running while Kershaw focuses on getting back to his usual Cy Young Award-winning self.

What do the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby do now?

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Gerrit Cole is now a New York Yankee. Nine years and $324 million make that so. But though the Yankees are the only team who gets him, they weren’t the only team interested in him. So let’s take a look at what the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby — the Dodgers and the Angels — can do now that they know they’ve lost.

Dodgers

The Dodgers were hopeful they had a shot due to Cole’s Los Angeles ties. Welp, that didn’t pan out. Which is not a shock. I’m struggling to think of the last time that whole “he’s from [place] so he’ll want to sign with [team near place]” thing worked out. It didn’t happen with CC Sabathia in the Bay Area. It didn’t happen with Mark Teixeira in Baltimore. It didn’t even work out with Brandon Webb in Cincinnati. Money talks, geography walks.

But the Dodgers wanted Cole. They wanted to bolster a pitching staff that has relied on an aging and now free agent Rich Hill and on free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu. There’s a hole to fill, and without Cole available to fill that hole, they’ll have to do something. What is the something they can do?

How about sign their chief rival’s last big pitching star?

It’s certainly a decent plan. But it’s one that might get expensive for Los Angeles. USA Today reported on Monday that Bumgarner was seeking five years and $100 million-plus. Some raised their eyebrows at that report, but given how much Stephen Strasburg and Cole commanded, it seems downright reasonable now. That’s especially the case given that the Giants — despite being on the brink of a rebuild — probably don’t want to see their franchise hero sign with the hated Dodgers:

So it’ll be a bidding war. A war that will make Madison Bumgarner a very large amount of money.

 

Angels

The Angels made no secret of their desire to land Cole. Joe Maddon talked openly about him in his press conference here at the Winter Meetings on Monday. Cole talked openly during the 2019 season, and since it ended, about his connection to Orange County and the Big A.

But the Angels didn’t have the talent to entice Cole and to make him believe that they could contend like the Yankees can. If they made a competitive offer — and we don’t know if they did — they still would’ve had to convince him that they could win. And, really, there is no real basis to believe that they could make a credible case for that.

So where do the Angels go?

General Manager Billy Eppler said on Tuesday that the Angels did not have Gerrit Cole tunnel vision and that they could spend in excess of $20 million a year on multiple players, none of which had to be Cole. On Tuesday the Angels shed the contract of Zack Cozart and, with his $12 million+ and roster spot opened up, the Halos are said to be interested in third baseman Anthony Rendon or, as a fallback, Josh Donaldson.

As for pitching, the Angels will likely prove to be competition for  Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and perhaps free agent Dallas Keuchel. They could also pursue trade options such as affordable pitchers like Miami’s Caleb Smith or Detroit’s Matthew Boyd or less-affordable — but less-costly in a trade — options like David Price, who the Red Sox were rumored to be shopping in the name of salary relief. Which is to say, the Angels have options, even if their top option is off the table.

But both they and their counterparts up in Los Angeles County, now have to go back to the drawing board now that Gerrit Cole is New York bound.