Dodgers might have to choose between Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner

The two most significant free agents the Dodgers have are Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner. Rich Hill is a close third, but as I laid out yesterday, the Dodgers have a lot of starting pitching options.

What the Dodgers don’t have is another elite-tier reliever or another All-Star caliber third baseman. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see a scenario in which the Dodgers might have to end up choosing between Jansen and Turner, and that promises to be a tough decision.

Jansen definitely proved his worth this postseason, as if he actually needed to, and he has been one of the three best relievers in the baseball since his debut in 2010. Of all relievers in baseball, the only one I might consider having before Jansen would be Andrew Miller, and even that’s not a sure thing given that Jansen has shown the ability to stretch his arm out if necessary as well.

Still, the Andrew Friedman-led front office hasn’t shown the willingness to pay for big-time relievers on the free agent market, though to be fair, that’s mostly because the opportunity hasn’t presented itself (again, Miller didn’t want to sign with the Dodgers). Besides, the Dodgers did have a trade in place for Aroldis Chapman before, well, everybody found out what an awful person he is. So that could be taken as recognition that they are willing to pay for premium relief arms, and could be a glimpse into what the front office might do this winter.

Of course, what may prevent them from re-signing Jansen might be the potential terms of his future deal, but Jansen’s heading into his age-29 season and, being predominantly a 1-pitch pitcher, should be able to hold up over the life of a 4- or 5-year contract. Yes, reliever contracts in excess of two or three years are scary, but when it comes to elite relievers it might be best to disregard that concern. Jansen could command upward of $15-18 million a season, and while that might be a bit excessive, it also might be necessary for the team to splurge in this case.

While the Dodgers’ bullpen was really good in 2016, losing Jansen and not replacing him with an equally elite reliever could be disastrous, especially in the postseason. Chapman is a free agent, but I’m not sure the Dodgers would tab him to replace Jansen (nor would I want them to). Mark Melancon is in the next tier of relievers, but he’s a definite step down from Jansen. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is there is no satisfactory replacement for Jansen and re-signing him is essentially the only option.

The Dodgers have been spoiled with closers in the last decade-plus in the form of Eric Gagne, Takashi Saito and now Jansen. He probably won’t give any kind of hometown discount (nor should he), so if the Dodgers want to keep him, they’ll have to pony up.

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Turner came to the Dodgers three offseasons ago and has done nothing but produce. He has a 138 wRC+ (18th in MLB), plays really good defense at third base and took on a leadership role in the clubhouse in 2016. The only knock on Turner’s performance was his complete inability to hit left-handed pitching this past season, but he hit them well in 2014 and 2015, so even that seems like less of an issue.

Despite his performance (which has been great), Turner is entering his age-32 season. That poses a bit of a problem for Friedman and the front office. It generally hasn’t been willing to give out big-money deals to players of Turner’s age. The only deals that come to mind are the 2-year, $20 million deal the Dodgers gave to Howie Kendrick last offseason (after he sat on the market for the majority of the winter) and the 4-year, $48 million deal given to Brandon McCarthy. So, history seems to be against Turner being retained.

What works in Turner’s favor the aforementioned clubhouse leadership that the front office has often praised. What also works is the fact he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on him for being as old as he is, as Turner only has 704 career games — the equivalent of about 4 1/2 MLB seasons. Turner’s a true definition of a late-bloomer and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down since his breakout. While his production dipped in terms of batting average and on-base percentage, he tagged a career-high 27 home runs in 2016 after hitting 23 in the previous two seasons combined. He also posted a career-high 5.6 wins above replacement thanks to some of the best third base defense in the game.

So, let’s assume Turner gets around a 4-year, $80 million deal from somebody. Is that something the Dodgers should do? They absolutely can, but it remains to be seen if they do. The 2018 free agent class might play into this decision, but Turner is versatile (and productive) enough that he could move to first base later in his contract to accommodate a left-side-of-the-infield player if they do need to clear room.

As for an immediate third base replacement if Turner doesn’t re-sign, no one in the organization jumps out and the free agent market is dim. Third base would need to be filled via the trade market if something goes wrong in negotiations with JT, and that’s not necessary all that appealing either. Evan Longoria, 31, makes sense, but he’s going to cost a lot in prospect capital. Oh, and he has $100 million coming his way over the next six seasons. So if you’re going to pay Longoria $100 million for six years (plus lose prospects), why not just pay Turner $80 million for four years? While there are other players who could be available on the trade market, it’s unlikely that either of them would be as good as Longoria or Turner, so options are limited here as well.

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There’s an argument to be made for and against keeping one or both of these impending free agents. And one other factor is that they will both be offered — and reject — the 1-year tender of $16.7 million, meaning the Dodgers would receive a supplemental 1st-round draft pick if either of them sign with another team. Regardless, the easiest thing for the Dodgers to do would be to pay both of them because they have the payroll to do so, but the front office also wants to remain flexible in the coming years — and it’s possible the owners don’t want to continue paying a 50 percent luxury tax every year — so there’s likely to be limits to the ceiling of the contract offers.

Everybody’s preference would be to keep both Jansen and Turner, but if I were forced to choose one, I’d go with Jansen because he’s one of the two best high-leverage relievers in the game. He’s also younger and is a better bet to hold up over the life of his contract. That isn’t a knock on Turner, but he is coming off microfracture surgery last offseason and hadn’t been able to handle the rigors of a full season before 2016. I guess what I’m saying is that I’d be much more comfortable with Howie Kendrick, starting third baseman, over Pedro Baez, closer.

If the Dodgers re-signed both Jansen and Turner but didn’t sign another big free agent, that would be fine. But the worry has to be losing one or both because Jansen and Turner will be hot commodities on the open market, and there are teams just itching to throw money at them. Hopefully, the one that eventually gets to do so is the Dodgers.

Who would you choose?

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.