When the ninth inning rolls around in a tight game, and the Dodgers need someone to come in, save the game, and nail down the win, who does the Dodger Nation want to see take the mound? Fans from every corner of Chavez Ravine will surely shout, “Kenley Jansen!”, in unison.
Unfortunately, this may be the last year that Jansen will be that ninth inning hero in blue, as Thursday morning he declined to commit to remaining a Dodger after this season, when he will become a free agent.
Kenley Jansen is just 28 years old, and has firmly established himself as one of the premier, lights-out closers in the major leagues. He was originally signed as a catcher by the Dodgers in 2005, and was converted to a pitcher in 2010. In 2012 Jansen became the Dodgers’ closer after Javy Guerra (now pitching for the Los Angeles Angels) struggled, recording 25 saves.
In 2013 the Dodgers brought in Brandon League and relegated Jansen back to set-up duties. The expensive League experiment failed, and Jansen was once again promoted to closer. In 2014 he recorded 101 strike outs and 44 saves, making him just the fourth Dodger pitcher in history to record more than 40 saves in a season.
Jansen started 2015 by breaking Dodger pitching records (set by Jay Howell) for games (13) and strikeouts (23) without a walk to begin a season. He made 54 appearances and earned 36 saves, striking out 80 batters and only walking 8 all season. At the end of 2015 Jansen became the first Dodger relief pitcher with five seasons of 80+ strike outs.
Kenley Jansen has been rewarded for all of this with one-year contracts since the 2014 season.
During the 2015-16 off-season the Dodgers took a shot at a big baseball splash by attempting to acquire closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds. That’s right, despite weak links in the infield, at least two outfield positions, in the starting rotation and throughout the bullpen, the Dodgers’ brain trust and numbers crunchers decided getting a new closer to be their priority. They certainly weren’t thinking of Chapman as a set-up man, were they?
The Dodgers eventually backed away from the deal when domestic violence allegations arose against Chapman, and he was eventually traded by the Reds to the New York Yankees.
If you’re Kenley Jansen, what would your thoughts be about how much the Dodgers value your efforts and accomplishments? Would it look to you like your employer is committed to you? At this point of their stewardship, I’m not exactly sure what they’re committed to.
Jansen seems to have come to his own conclusions and had this to say to Bill Shaiken, Contact Reporter for the Los Angeles Times,
“This game is a business…There are a lot of teams out there. I’m here right now.”
Kenley has decided he won’t talk to the Dodgers about any new contract terms until after the 2016 season. The game is a business, and that certainly is his prerogative – but it seems to me Jensen will be playing this season with an eye toward free agency and the kind of jump from the Dodgers to a new team that Zack Greinke recently made.
It’s been said that pitchers are a particular breed of athlete, with many of them being eccentric and sensitive. I’m not inside Jansen’s head, but one doesn’t have to be particularly sensitive to feel undervalued when one is at the top of his game, let alone his profession, but his employer actively seeks a replacement.