Clayton Kershaw plans to return next year. But where?

He would rather retire than break down again.

Except he thinks he won’t.

He would rather leave than be reduced to mediocrity.

Except he thinks that won’t happen either.

Sound, when Clayton Kershaw imagines what he will do next year, he imagines himself launching.

“So far I haven’t really thought about next year,” he said. “But I think I’m inclined not to play, that’s for sure.”

The tentative plan lacks specifics at this point, with Kershaw saying he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll return to the Dodgers for a 16th year or move to pitch elsewhere. I was having fun an offer from the Texas Rangers ahead of this season and could revisit playing for his hometown team this winter.

Heading into the playoffs, what the 34-year-old southpaw is convinced of is that he can handle back problems from which I returned earlier this month. The same is true of elbow disorders which kept him out of the playoffs Last year.

And as long as he remains healthy, baseball’s fiercest competitor intends to compete again next year.

“I reserve the right to change my mind, but as of today I think I have at least one race left,” he said.

Thoughts of extending his Hall of Fame career have been bolstered by the way this year has gone, with Kershaw now in a pitching position in his 11th postseason. His October preparations will continue on Saturday when he starts against the St. Louis Cardinals in a game that will mark his first time with four days off since being activated on the injured list.

“If I was healthy and won the World Series, I don’t know what the last offseason would have been like. Same thing for this offseason, right? I still don’t know.”

— Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw waves to Dodgers fans after the team's 4-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw waves to fans after the team clinched the NL West title with a 4-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on September 29. 13 in Phoenix.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

“This year has been a blast for me, personally,” Kershaw said.

Last week, when the Dodgers got their ninth division title in 10 yearsmanager Dave Roberts asked Kershaw to address his teammates before they uncorked bottles of sparkling wine.

“I just think Clayton epitomizes everything we’ve done, everything we do,” Roberts said.

Kershaw triumphed in a year that began with uncertainty. The three-time Cy Young Award winner admitted he didn’t know what to expect after a 2021 season in which he injured his elbow in July and injured himself again in the final days of the regular season.

“I didn’t want to go out like this if I could,” Kershaw said.

He didn’t know he would have a choice, even though he was sure his elbow would heal without surgery. I didn’t feel well for most of the winter. He wasn’t feeling well in the first month of his off-season throwing program, which he started in January.

“I’m grateful for the lockout,” I said.

The lockout gave Kershaw an opportunity to delay deciding whether to re-sign with the Dodgers or move to the Rangers, who play within driving distance of his offseason home in suburban Dallas. Shortly before the start of spring training in mid-March, Kershaw signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers.

“If I was healthy and winning the World Series, I don’t know what the last offseason would have been like,” Kershaw said. “The same goes for this offseason, right? I still don’t know.”

Retirement was not a consideration.

Looking to the future, he said he imagined his primary motivation for retiring would be either health or performance.

“I don’t want to be hurt,” I said. “It’s just an awful feeling. You just feel useless. You feel like you’re in the way. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. So if I felt like I was going hurt myself all the time, I don’t want to do that anymore.

Joey Gallo, Craig Kimbrel, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers celebrate in the locker room

Left to right: Joey Gallo, Craig Kimbrel, Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers celebrate in the locker room after winning the NL West on September 11. 13 in Phoenix.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

The last time Kershaw made 30 or more starts in a season was seven years ago. His persistent back problems have resulted in him being placed on the injured list twice this season.

“At the end of the day, throwing is hard on my back,” he said. “There’s no getting around it.”

However, he added: “I can handle it, definitely, and maybe there’s a time when it can last eight months out of the year and be good. I still think that’s in there. “

Regarding the performance, Kershaw said, “I don’t want to be mediocre either. I want to be good at what I do. I don’t want to hang on just to throw.

He’s certainly not hanging on just this year, throwing well enough to be one of two locks for the Dodgers’ playoff rotation, the other being a Cy Young Award contender. Julio Urias.

Kershaw is 9-3 with a 2.39 ERA in 19 starts, including 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four games since his most recent return from the injured list.

He started the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.

The downside is that he was forced to spend more time away from his growing family.

While his wife Ellen and their four children spent the summer with him, they returned to Texas in August for the start of the school year. Seven-year-old Cali Ann is in second grade. Five-year-old Charley is in kindergarten. Ellen and the kids have since made a few weekend visits to Los Angeles.

“Cali plays football, plays basketball,” Kershaw said. “Charley is doing all kinds of fun things, kind of getting into baseball a bit. I don’t want to miss that stuff either.

But the children are also a reason for him to continue playing beyond this season.

“I think what’s also cool is that they’re getting older and starting to understand a bit of what it’s like, especially Charley, coming to the clubhouse and stuff,” Kershaw said. “There’s a part of me that wants them to know what I’ve done, not just, ‘Hey, he had a job at one point.'”

And if he can extend his career a few more years, maybe his kids will understand that he did more than just play baseball, that he won, he dominated and he contributed to establish the most cohesive franchise culture in baseball.