Kenley Jansen returns to Dodgers on 5-year, $80 million contract #NeverWorried

The Dodgers have re-signed closer Kenley Jansen to a five-year, $80 million deal, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. While progress was frustrating at times, there was nobody on the market that could’ve replaced Jansen, and this was likely a move the Dodgers had to make.

For a while, Dodgers fans were understandably losing hope of chances to re-sign Kenley due to reports of the Marlins making Kenley the exact same offer he just signed, in addition to rumors that Kenley liked the thought of reuniting with former teammates in Miami and that the Dodgers were balking at investing that much money in a closer. However, in the end, Kenley chose to stay with the only team he’s ever known for the second-richest contract a reliever has ever signed (Aroldis Chapman‘s deal with the Yankees being first).

Speaking of the Los Angeles connection, it turns out the Nationals offered Kenley more money. Additionally, it doesn’t seem like the Marlins were one of the final two despite reportedly making the same offer he signed with the Dodgers for and not having an income tax in the state.

Kenley’s logic has always made sense to me, because once you get to that level of money, it hardly seems worth it to uproot yourself for a million more a year or something similar. Most athletes seem to disagree with me on that, but it seems like Kenley does put a value on comfort level.

Either way, this reunion has always made sense. While the Dodgers had options, as Dustin pointed out, none of them approached what Kenley could do for the team. Back in the middle of November, I expressed my justification for re-signing him to a huge deal.

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.

All of that still applies and the predicted money was even close. There is one wrinkle to the contract, however, as Kenley can opt-out after three seasons.

That doesn’t change much about the contract, honestly. Chapman got the same clause and it seems almost standard for long-term deals nowadays.

It seems to be worth mentioning that any skeptics of this contract have valid viewpoints. Historically, relievers on contracts this long have turned out to be disasters, and investing this much money in a player who may only throw 60-80 innings is always a risk. However, despite an ongoing big-market rebuild of sorts, this is still very much a win-now team, and such a team needs an elite arm out of the bullpen it can count on in October. The alternatives likely weren’t going to be that, but Jansen returning nets them that security blanket at the very least.

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With Justin Turner also rumored to be close to inking a deal with the team, the Dodgers will bring back much of the same squad that had the World Series winners on the ropes with a 2-1 lead in the NLCS. The 2017 team will have the young players with a year more of development, players like Rich Hill and Julio Urias and Andre Ethier and Andrew Toles around from the start, and (probably) won’t set another DL record, so while the team may look the same, it’s almost surely better by default.

As such, while I tried to talk myself into scenarios where I’d be satisfied going into 2017 without Jansen, in the end it was always hard to avoid that the Dodgers would be scrambling for most of the year without him. Getting Kenley back undoubtedly makes the Dodgers better for next year, but it also takes a ton of pressure off the front office and coaching staff in trying to find the pieces to make the bullpen work. So despite the inherent risk of signing a reliever to a long-term deal, I’m thrilled the Dodgers decided to bring Kenley Jansen back.

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama

I get paid millions by the Dodgers.

MILLIONS!