Why haven’t the Dodgers tried to sign Kenley Jansen to a long-term contract?
He can be a free agent at the end of the season, yet they have apparently made zero effort to sign him to a multiyear deal.
The Moneyball types have long disparaged long-term deals for closers. Lots of arguments – pitch in one-third as many innings as a starter, high attrition rate, usually a failed starter; and plenty examples of contracts gone wrong – Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Rafael Soriano, Brandon League.
There are dominant closers who are exceptions – Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel – but the Dodgers seemingly do not regard Jansen as such, which if nothing else, is bit mystifying. Jansen has been the one rock in an often shaky bullpen for years.
During the past four seasons, he has averaged over 33 saves a year. This while their middle-innings relievers and set-up men have been as reliable as a DeAndre Jordan free throw.
The Dodgers certainly appeared to value the importance of late-inning arms when they made an attempt in the off-season to trade for closer Aroldis Chapman. Yet when it came contract time with Jansen this off-season, he told MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick they only talked about a one-year deal to avoid arbitration and no multiyear deal.
The Dodgers’ front office, of course, is littered with those who worship sabermetrics. Hopefully they’re not going to outsmart themselves here. They have no obvious replacement should he walk after the season, even if Jansen said he could understand if they elected to let him leave and try to close with Chris Hatcher, Pedro Baez or Yimi Garcia.
“They can close -- Hatch, Yimi, Pedro,” he told Gurnick. “I’m not mad at that. If that’s the road they want to go, who knows? This day I’m a Dodger. I’ll just continue to keep improving and help the team win and be better every day.”
Since Jansen was converted from catcher to pitcher at age 21, he doesn’t have the same mileage on his arm as most 28-year-olds. Last season he had 36 saves in 38 opportunities, going 2-1 with a 2.41 ERA and a career-low 0.78 WHIP. If his fastball was down a tick, he still struck out 13.8 per nine innings, well in line with his outstanding 14.0 career average. His cutter is still considered the best since Rivera.
This is a guy you want on your team, and the Dodgers need to let Jansen know it. However much they abhor paying big money to relievers, this is one they need and who’s earned it.
It seems foolish to gamble with his future. Maybe they want the season to start to make sure he continues to be effective before pursuing a multiyear deal. Maybe they’re willing to let him leave or think a qualifying offer would scare off teams like it did with Howie Kendrick.
For now, he is signed to a one-year deal at $10.65 million. After that, it’s the great unknown.