Re-signing Turner & Kenley (& Hill?) is a boring plan, but also the correct one

Even if you disagree with the end product, I thought Dustin’s article on Monday about the Dodgers offseason plan was well worth the time spent. Sure, there were sections I disagreed with, but a lot of that was because quite frankly it’s no fun to come up with an off-season plan article that’s just transactions that 99 percent of people already agree upon.

That said … I’m going to do exactly that. Look, the Dodgers just need to re-sign both Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.

Of course the “easiest” or most “common sense” thing to do is not always the best path to go down when it comes to anything, baseball included. However, when it comes to the 2017 season, it does appear that doing the simple thing would save the Dodgers a lot of headache, and most importantly, prospect capital and depth.

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Turner is one of the best position players on the open market, and his plus defense (7 DRS/14 UZR) paired with a middle-of-the-order bat (124 OPS+/124 wRC+) made him one of the key cogs in the 2016 team. Pair that with his off-the-field influence in the clubhouse and the community, and it’s hard not to see him as integral to the team. Of course, that’s not to say Turner doesn’t come without risks, as he will be 32 in 2017, has had chronic knee issues before last year which led to surgery that included a microfracture procedure, and last season was the only year in which he topped 500 PA.

Still, Turner projects well going forward due to his combination of consistent peripherals with the Dodgers, like his average walk rate and below-average strikeout rate, despite the fact that he’s become more fly-ball happy (28 percent in 2014, 40 percent in 2016) and has hit for more power (.153 ISO in ’14, .215 ISO in ’16). Turner’s 2016 is more impressive when one considers that he was hitting .220/.320/.322/.642 on June 3, likely due to the aforementioned offseason surgery. He would hit .301/.349/.573/.921 the rest of the way, including .286/.457/.514/.971 in the playoffs.

Thus, in order to bring him back, it’s gonna take a splash of cash, as Keith Law put him around three years and $60 million ($20M AAV), MLB Trade Rumors priced him at five years and $85 million ($17M AAV), and FanGraphs got him at four years and $82 million ($20.5M AAV). Meanwhile, Dan Szymborski projected his value at five years and $108 million ($21.6M AAV). I’ll guess he gets around four years and $80 million ($20M AAV), which is completely reasonable for a player of his importance (roughly 5 WAR).

It’s always an option for the Dodgers to avoid paying that price and then compensating for the loss of JT elsewhere. The Dodgers could trade for Evan Longoria to replace him, they could trade for a second baseman (Ian Kinsler), or they could trade for a corner outfielder (Ryan Braun), all of that is true and workable and one of the fun things about Dustin’s article, in my opinion. However, when considering other options, the same thought kept coming back in my head: “Why not just simplify things instead?” Splash money on Justin Turner instead of getting creative, because that way the Dodgers get the same or better production, spend around the same or not significantly more money, and keep continuity in the clubhouse by retaining one of its leaders. Oh yeah, and most importantly, the Dodgers wouldn’t have to spend prospect capital to do it.

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Jansen is the other key free agent for the Dodgers, and he fills the closer role that makes the entire bullpen go. In his seven years in the bigs, he’s never really had a down year, but he kicked things into overdrive for 2016, posting a 1.86 ERA and 1.44 FIP for a career-best 46 ERA- and 36 FIP-. After concerns that Kenley wasn’t missing enough bats earlier in 2016, he got his mechanics together and ended up striking out a 41.4 percent of batters (highest since 2011) and walking just 4.4 percent of batters (bested only by his 2015 season). Better yet, this year he added multiple inning appearances to his repertoire and really showed his mettle in the postseason, proving both that he’s capable of handling that kind of role and that he’ll do anything for the team to win. As such, while his 2016 WAR of 2.8 by RA9 and 3.2 by FIP are impressive already, one could argue Kenley still has room to improve if his inning total spikes a bit from the 68.2 frames he threw this year.

Is he good?

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Yeah, he good.

The best thing is that there’s almost no red flags with Kenley that come to mind. He’s had some injuries over the course of his career, but he hasn’t missed a ton of time and has bounced back effectively whenever he has, and almost the worst thing one can say is that he’s … well, a pitcher. That’s the primary risk. Given his lack of problems, it won’t be cheap to retain Kenley, and Law doesn’t give a specific figure but says he could be the highest-paid reliever ever (previous record is $15M AAV), while both MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs posts him at a remarkable $85 million over five years ($17M AAV). Amazingly, it’s not far off from what he’s worth, as Szymborski projects that he deserves about four years and $73.5 million ($18.4M AAV). Personally, I figure it might get bid up to something like four years, $76 million ($19M AAV), and I’d follow at that price even if it is a bit of an overpay. I would probably be weary of five years, but if he was willing to take a lower average annual value, I’d probably end up following along on with the proposed five years and $85 million as well.

If it sounds desperate, well it’s because I am and so are the Dodgers. Not enough teams have elite relief arms to close as it is, so a trade seems out of the question and would cost ridiculous prospect capital anyway. Aroldis Chapman is on the market, and he and Kenley have about equal valuations, but he comes with legitimate character concerns that had the Dodgers back out of a deal before. I’m sure the team is a lot more willing to pursue him now that concerns about a suspension are over, but I’d rather not have to cheer for the guy. My preference is especially true if Chapman’s going to cost more than Kenley since that comes without much of an upgrade in performance. Mark Melancon is also on the market, but he’s a tick below both Kenley and Chapman and will also be entering his age-32 season, which brings up age-related decline concerns as well. In short, unless the Dodgers want to completely roll the dice with a collection of fringe-average to above-average bullpen arms in 2017, paying Kenley Jansen to remain the closer is their best option and it’s one that solves a lot of concerns about the pen.

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While those two free agents are the ones everybody has on their minds right now as the common sense moves, I think there’s one more Dodger free agent that fits into the same category: Rich Hill. When he’s been healthy, Hill’s been a top-of-the-rotation type of arm, which is what the Dodgers need. In 2016, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP for an impressive 53 ERA- and 58 FIP-, striking out 29.4 percentof batters and walking 7.5 percent of batters. Despite pitching just 110.1 innings this year, those numbers were good enough for a WAR of 4.2 by RA9 and 3.8 by FIP.

Of course, the downside is that his 2016 innings total, while already low, is actually his most since 2007. Besides the long list of maladies that led him to pitching in independent ball as recent as 2015, just in 2016 alone Hill’s blister problem caused him to miss months of starts and that’s a problem that’s more chronic than magically fixed after a recovery period. As such, in addition to his age (37), there’s a ton of injury risk in investing in Hill. Still, it’s hard to emphasize exactly how good he has been, as people don’t ever seem to want to believe it.

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Yeah, that’ll do.

That production is worth a lot, especially in this starting pitching market, and Law and MLB Trade Rumors both have him pegged at three years and $50 million ($16.7M AAV). However, FanGraphs goes a shorter route but with more money per year at two years and $48 million ($24M AAV). Meanwhile, Szymborski projects his value at three years and $39 million ($13MM AAV), which sounds low but likely makes sense given his age and risk factors. Preferably, a deal for Hill would fall to like two years and $40 million with a third-year vesting option, but three years and $50 million sounds reasonable enough as well.

It makes sense because while the Dodgers have a lot of starting pitching depth, they don’t have the other front-line arm they need. Hill can step into that void behind Clayton Kershaw, but he does come with injury risk, and that’s where the depth comes into play. One can safely assume he’ll miss time, but ideally those innings will be filled with average production due to the surplus of decent starters, and hopefully the Dodgers can manage Hill’s health like they did in 2016 so that he’s ready to go in October. He’s really an ideal fit for the way the Dodgers are currently constructed, and when the second-best starter on the market is arguably Jeremy Hellickson and the trade cost for a front-line starter is going to be enormous, spending money on Hill seems like the best option.

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Last offseason, I wrote that the Dodgers needed to extend Jansen and re-sign Zack Greinke. It was just “common sense.” Jansen was an elite reliever in a market that was increasingly paying more and more for them and Greinke was a front-line starter for a team that needed a front-line starter, and while he projected to regress to high-2/low-3 ERA performance, I thought it would work out. Well, I was one for two. Jansen is going to get paid ridiculous amounts for a reliever now, but Greinke actually pitched worse than offseason signing Kenta Maeda did. Unless Greinke turns it around (which he absolutely can), he serves as an example of how supposed “sure things” can backfire in serious ways. You’d rather miss on a Scott Kazmir or two than one Albert Pujols, after all.

The overall point of that aside being that there’s risk in just throwing money at a problem for a supposed sure thing even if it seems like the easiest solution, and that’s especially true when the team might be angling for future payroll flexibility in the near future. But even acknowledging that, I don’t see an easier way to maintain the team’s depth on the 40-man roster and beyond, balance the team’s need to compete in the near term, and achieve the team’s goal of long-term sustainability in a better way than to simply pay their best players to remain with the Dodgers instead of going elsewhere.

It’s a boring conclusion to a rather boring premise, but my whole thing this year is that I wouldn’t mind a boring offseason if that meant retaining some of the team’s best talents for 2017 and beyond.

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama
I get paid millions by the Dodgers. MILLIONS!