There’s been a lot of talk about whether the Dodgers should extend closer Kenley Jansen after a recent article from Ken Gurnick reported that there were no extension talks between Jansen and the Dodgers. The club and Kenley just recently settled on a 10.6 million dollar salary for Kenley for both sides to avoid arbitration. This is Jansen’s final year of arbitration and Kenley is set to hit the free agent market this coming winter after the season is over.
Gurnick interviewed Jansen and he has expressed his desire to stay in Los Angeles. In typical moneyball fashion the club has not discussed keeping him beyond 2016 at all. Poor underappreciated Kenley. The message has been clearly sent.
The “should we sign Kenley” debate has been a hot topic over here on the site as well. As spring training camps open this week and players file into their Camelback clubhouse for the first time this spring, we often wonder which players will still be with the club next spring training and which players should be signed long term. These are all valid questions and concerns every baseball fan or writer has.
After the Aroldis Chapman trade fell through because of Chapman’s domestic violence incident, reports surfaced that Kenley was not upset and understood the club’s situation. Apparently Andrew Friedman had reached out to him after the trade fell through.
To answer the question of whether the Dodgers should resign Kenley one can also look at the question of whether or not a club needs a closer. My response to that question would be, “do birds fly”? Of course a club needs a closer, and they need a good one.
Perhaps I am more of a traditionalist when it comes to roster creation, but I do believe that having a consistent closer is a necessity for any good baseball club. Many of the anti-reliever pro-moneyball and anti-free agency type people will argue against it. I once heard one of the writers in the Dodger dugout once say that relievers were a dime a dozen as we waited for Don Mattingly to come out for a pre-game presser.
Indeed fungible middle relievers are a dime a dozen most of the time, but elite relievers are always the exception. Kenley is absolutely an elite reliever. We can argue about the validity of a closer and “saves” but the reality is all of the best clubs in baseball have a bad ass closer in the ninth inning. The Giants have Sergio Romo. The Royals had Greg Holland before he got hurt and now have Wade Davis. The Mets have Jeurys Familia. The Cardinals have Trevor Rosenthal. You get the idea.
The free agent market is bloated but it’s still developing for closers and late inning relievers. Star closers are not getting 200 million dollar contracts. They don’t pitch enough innings to warrant that kind of deal. Many people will always cite the whole “They’re going to have to pay Kenley 150 million dollars to keep him!” argument, and “that contract won’t be worth it in several years!”. The moneyball kids and anti-relievers make the same arguments every time. If you remember they said the same thing about Zack Greinke. As in life nothing is that black and white.
Kenley won’t get that much cash, maybe 40-50 million dollars would be sufficient. It’s not even about that though. It’s about Kenley being one of the best relievers in all of MLB over the last several seasons. Jansen has pitched for the Dodgers since 2010. He’s entering his seventh season in Dodger Blue. Kenley has posted a 2.28 ERA/2.02 FIP and has a 5.6 hits per nine innings rate in 338 games pitched. He’s struck out 14 batters per nine innings and saved 142 games for the Dodgers. Saves may have become a dirty word because of the moneyball kids but they do matter to some degree.
Even with his heart problems he’s still been remarkably reliable. He’s averaged 68 appearances and over 60 innings per season since his MLB debut.
In case you are wondering just how good Kenley has been over the last several years, let me show you. Since 2012 Kenley has ranked as the third best reliever in pitching WAR in all of baseball behind only Craig Kimbrel and Chapman. Since 2011 he ranks fourth with a 9.8 WAR.
Since 2011-relief pitching WAR leaders
|5||David Robertson||Yankees/White Sox||9.3|
|5||David Robertson||Yankees/White Sox||6.7|
Those numbers certainly don’t lie. Jansen has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball over the last 5 seasons. He is not just a really good closer; he’s a unique talent that doesn’t come around often. The one saving grace about all of the Dodger’s bullpen problems the last few years has been that they have a great closer. Losing Kenley would be a tough blow to a bullpen that has struggled to find its form.
At some point you have to start retaining your star players and paying them well. This anti-free agent small market mentality is not good for a large market club. Just because the Dodgers have the best farm system in baseball is not an excuse to not keep your star players around once they hit their free agent years. Every player and every contract is different. Some work out, some don’t. Jansen is in the prime of his career (age 28) and not signing him for those years would be pretty foolish.
Even the small market Royals are finally learning that retaining your star players is worth the financial commitment. Their recent extensions of players like Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon are good examples. Sure the Gordon extension may hamstring them financially in a couple of years, or it may help them win a couple more championships and sell out every game while generating millions of dollars in sales and merchandising. Think that contract will be worth it? You better believe it.
Unfortunately we know that the brain trust simply don’t operate that way. That’s just the way they are. They’ll let Kenley walk in free agency and he’ll be running in from the bullpen with a Dbacks uniform to “wild wild west” instead of “California Love”. Other teams are going to be licking their chops.
Oh sure the Dodgers will survive. Maybe Chris Hatcher or Yimi Garcia takes over the role. Maybe the Dodgers make some complex three-team trade to land a Craig Kimbrel or David Robertson. Or perhaps they take one of their great pitching prospects like Jharel Cotton and turn him into a closer. Anything is possible. Sometimes you should just take the traditional route and re-sign a guy. Long term contracts don’t always end in failure. Baseball isn’t always binary.