Kenley Jansen’s absence from Dodgers is noticeable. Will it become permanent?
For the last decade, the Dodgers have been able to rely on two people on their pitching staff: Clayton Kershaw to start games and Kenley Jansen to close them. This year may be different.
Kershaw reported to Camelback Ranch on Sunday fresh off agreeing to a one-year contract to extend his Dodgers career to a 15th season. But Jansen, for the first time since the facility opened in 2009, is nowhere to be found for the fans crowding the back fields. The Dodgers’ all-time saves leader, a 6-foot-5 fan favorite synonymous with the organization’s return to prominence, remains a free agent three weeks from opening day.
“You can definitely tell he’s not here,” Kershaw said.
Jansen, 34, seeks a three-year contract and a guarantee to close games. Teams are interested. The Dodgers remain in the mix, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, and have not shut the door on retaining him. The chances of a reunion, however, diminished when the Dodgers agreed to a contract with Freddie Freeman on Wednesday.
“He and (wife) Gianni have put themselves in position to go out and seek out the best opportunity for them and our role in this — just as with a lot of other important Dodgers in the past — has been to sit back and let them run out that process,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “A lot of times it ends up with the player coming back. Sometimes it ends up with the player not. But we couldn’t be more supportive, obviously, of them doing what’s best for them and their family.”
Dodgers left-hander David Price is preparing to be a starter in 2022 after serving as a starter and reliever last season.
If Jansen returns to Los Angeles, he would slot right back into the role he first seized in 2012 — the last time the Dodgers failed to reach the postseason. Without him, the Dodgers are prepared to proceed with a closer-by-committee to at least start the season if they don’t add another closer.
“He’s been my teammate since I’ve been here,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said. “A lot of these guys, we’ve had some heart-fought battles with him. We’ve been in a lot of tough spots with him and a lot of good spots and people come and go. It’s kind of crazy.”
One possible replacement is acquiring Craig Kimbrel. Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Sunday he believes the 33-year-old Kimbrel will be on the club’s opening day roster, but the White Sox already have Liam Hendriks, an All-Star closer last season, to close games. That could make Kimbrel — the only active major leaguer with more saves than Jansen — available for the right price.
Kimbrel had a 0.49 ERA in 39 appearances for the Chicago Cubs last season before he was traded to the team across the city. He struggled with the White Sox as a set-up man for Hendricks, posting a 5.09 ERA in 24 games. He has one year and $16 million remaining on his contract. The Dodgers’ willingness to absorb the contract could be tempered by their decision to sign Freeman.
As it stands, the Dodgers would split closing duties to begin the season. Right-handers Blake Treinen, Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol, and Tommy Kahnle are among the choices for a committee.
“Just coming at it from who’s available that night,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and what gives us the best chance to win that game.”
Treinen was an All-Star closer with the Oakland Athletics in 2018, but he’s been invaluable for the Dodgers in a fireman role the last two seasons. Hudson’s most extensive experience as closer came in 2019 after the Washington Nationals acquired him at the trade deadline. Three months later, he recorded the final out in Game 7 of the World Series.
Major League Baseball is dropping regular COVID-19 testing as part of easing its pandemic restrictions going into the 2022 season.
Kahnle and Graterol have never been full-time closers. Kahnle, 32, missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Graterol, 23, possesses an easy 100-mph fastball, but the Dodgers would like to see him improve against left-handed batters.
On Wednesday, Graterol, who added a cutter to his arsenal last season, said he’s added a fourth pitch to his mix. He declined to share details. But he did say he’d like to close games.
“It’s one of my dreams,” Graterol said.
A decade ago, Jansen was the hard-throwing youngster thirsting for the role. He was a promising reliever with a nasty cutter who had signed as a catcher out of Curaçao in 2004. The Dodgers were a team without trip to the World Series in 24 years. Three pennants, one World Series title, three All-Star nods, and 350 saves later, the Dodgers are likely staring at a future without him.
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