Closing out an era: Dodgers reflect fondly on Atlanta-bound Kenley Jansen
For most of his time managing the Dodgers, Dave Roberts rarely had to call down to the bullpen before the ninth inning.
If the Dodgers had the lead, he didn’t need to say a thing. He knew Kenley Jansen would be getting loose, warming up, and preparing to come in and close out the game.
“He would do it naturally,” Roberts said. “I understood him, he understood me.”
Roberts added, appreciatively: “He made my job much easier.”
Freddie Freeman says he felt hurt by how the Braves didn’t make a big effort to keep him. Kenley Jansen could probably say the same about the Dodgers.
That constant will be gone this season, after Jansen signed a one-year, $16-million contract with the Atlanta Braves on Friday night — news was still sinking in around the Dodgers’ spring training facility a morning later.
“He has dominated for a long time and he was always there, every year,” said Clayton Kershaw, a teammate of Jansen’s going back to their minor league days. “He went out there and did what he was asked to do. We’re going to miss him, I’m going to miss him.”
Added catcher Austin Barnes: “It’ll be weird not having him, going to battle with him. But I’m happy for him, going to Atlanta, got a good contract and I’m sure he’ll be good over there.”
Though Jansen was coming off one of his most productive seasons in 2021, when he posted a 2.22 ERA and converted 38 of 43 save opportunities, a return to the Dodgers never appeared to be in the cards.
Jansen was seeking another lucrative contract at age 34. The Dodgers were seemingly content with their current crop of relievers, comfortable to use a closer-by-committee system if needed.
“That’s part of the hurdles, the business side of things,” Roberts said. “Where he’s got to maximize his earnings and do what’s best for him and his family, which he’s clearly said. And then, as an organization, we’ve got kind of — timing is important. And so as we continue to move forward, which we are responsible to do, it just didn’t line up with the timing.”
Over his 12 years with the Dodgers, Jansen became a franchise icon. He has more than twice as many saves (350) as any other pitcher in team history. His 701 appearances are more than any other Dodgers pitcher too.
A three-time All-Star and two-time National League reliever of the year, Jansen’s best seasons were from 2013 to 2017, when he posted five consecutive sub-3.00 ERAs and racked up at least 40 saves three times.
Days after the Dodgers signed former Braves star Freddie Freeman, Atlanta signed former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to a one-year contract.
In recent years, Jansen was inconsistent. He had a 3.01 ERA in 2018, a career-worst 3.71 ERA in 2019 and a 3.33 ERA in 2020, at times losing his place as the club’s exclusive ninth-inning weapon.
Although he has excellent career postseason numbers (a 2.13 ERA, 19 saves and 92 strikeouts in 57 games), he was also at the center of several October disappointments before the team’s 2020 World Series title, leading some factions of the fanbase to question his role and occasionally even shower him with boos.
Roberts, however, put those recent struggles into perspective Saturday, describing Jansen as “a Dodger great” who was central to one of the most successful stretches in team history.
“I think that over the last few years, there’s been some sentiment that he wasn’t what he should have been, and that is completely false,” Roberts said. “I do think that as a closer, things are more magnified, which they should be. But this guy was as dependable as any in the history of the game. So the numbers don’t lie. They really don’t.”
Complete coverage from The Times on free-agent Freddie Freeman agreeing to a six-year, $162-million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Does Roberts think Dodger fans realized how good they had it?
“Here’s what I will say,” said Roberts, striking a diplomatic tone. “As a fan, you root for your players, your team and you’re in it with them. So I think that when someone has been so good, and he’s not as good as you’ve seen at times, I think fans get upset by it. And they’re entitled to voice their opinions, but I do think we’re gonna look back and those same fans that booed him are going to look back in hindsight and go, ‘Man, he was a heck of a Dodger.’”
Roberts didn’t shut the door on a possible future reunion with Jansen, noting that his deal in Atlanta is only for one year.
“We might see him again,” Roberts said. “But he’s always a Dodger.”
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