Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Pretty much everybody loves Kenley Jansen. Partly because his name isn’t Brandon League, but mostly because of his cutter. Look at that pitch to Giancarlo Stanton, it’s simply unfair. Everyone compares him to Mariano Rivera because of the cutter, Jansen of course has worse control (up until this past season), is more susceptible to the long ball (by a minuscule margin), but Jansen towers over Rivera (literally!) in terms of strikeouts. 40% of all the batters that come up versus Jansen walk away disappointed via the strikeout. It’s impressive to see a young pitcher this dominant, especially considering he increased his groundball rate by 4.5%. Needless to say he’s the only guy on the Dodgers who should be closing. It’s pretty interesting to think that Brandon League last season made over 5 times the amount Kenley Jansen has made in his career. All this is significant because this is the first season which Kenley Jansen up for arbitration. Elite closers just entering their first year of arbitration get expensive real fast. You’ll see MLBTR’s Matt Swartz projects Jansen to earn 4.8 million in arbitration, this number will steadily increase especially considering the earnings through arbitration are directly tied to saves, which is silly but the main reason Craig Kimbrel is projected to make 2.45 million dollars more in his first year compared to Kenley. Jim Johnson is projected to earn a whopping 10.8 million dollars in his last year of arbitration, and he’s nowhere near the pitcher Kimbrel or Jansen are. The main point is Jansen is about to get really expensive and I’m sure you’d rather lock him up now and not let Jansen get to the point where he’s making 10 million dollars the season before he enters free agency. It’d be smart sparking up extension talks sometime in the near future considering he’s going to be getting most of the saves this season and will set him up very nicely in arbitration talks in 2015.
The market for closers has evaporated pretty quickly which is somewhat understandable, but if you put a Craig Kimbrel, a Kenley Jansen, a Greg Holland on the open market, they’d easily get 15 million per season and at least a 3 year deal in terms of length. Brian Wilson just signed what essentially was a 1 year 10 million dollar deal to setup Jansen, and was going to get bigger numbers before he backed out of a potential Detroit deal. I’ll bet next offseason Wilson opts out and cashes in. I feel it’s necessary to make a distinction on the “dying closer market” elite, young closers will always get paid.
Which brings us to the question, what would a Kenley Jansen extension look like?
In order to answer this question I looked at some recent arbitration cases (and also some extensions) with elite closers. Take the 3 year earnings they received during arbitration and compare that to the market now and come up with a reasonable contract extension for Jansen. I looked at closers like Huston Street, Jim Johnson, and Jonathan Papelbon.
Huston Street’s arbitration years were somewhat mediocre compared to our high end closers of today in 179 IP through 2008-2010 he compiled a 129 ERA+ with a 1.067 WHIP with nearly a home run per 9 innings. This earned him a 7.8 million for the first 2 arbitration seasons (2008-2009), and then a very nice 7.2 million in 2010 which would be part of his 5 year 36 million dollar extension with a 7 million team option. I think this is a very fair deal for an elite closer from the team’s perspective because of the long term security, but it’s also somewhat mediocre in terms of AAV for the player considering that he was just about to hit free agency, Street obviously liked the security of 5 years and didn’t mind taking less AAV.
Jim Johnson is a nice case because he is about to finish his 3rd year of arbitration without an extension in the way. There’s a reason he’s made so much money during his arbitration years, it’s the same reason Mitch Williams probably considers him the best closer in the game right now. SAVES! Johnson was a super two player so he went to arbitration 4 times instead of the normal 3, when he first went to arbitration following a season where he put up a 123 ERA+ and a single save in 26.1 innings he made less than a million dollars. In 2012 he increased his earnings by compiling 9 saves and a 158 ERA+ in 91 innings, this made his earnings shoot up to 2.625 million dollars. Jim Johnson is a perfect example of a guy being at the right place at the right time, the 2012 Orioles were not only good, they won copious amounts of games by 1 run fashion, 29 to be exact, this allowed Johnson to save 51 games, coupled with a 170 ERA+ he earned a whopping 6.5 million dollars. This past season he saved another 50 games which means he’s about to make more than 10 million dollars in 2014. So the total amount of money he made in his 3 arbitration years came out to be 19,925 million dollars. I did eliminate his $975,000 payout because this was his first year of being a super two, and that numbers was relatively minuscule in comparison to his total arbitration earnings.
Finally, probably the most realistic deal for an elite closer, Jonathan Papelbon. He was by all accounts an elite closer, from the time he entered the Boston Red Sox bullpen till the time he left having a 197 ERA+ and 219 saves he was stellar and widely regarded as the best closer in the game not named Mariano Rivera at that point. The years that would determine his arbitration payout were very good, from 2008-2010 he compiled a 10.1 K/9 versus a 2.6 BB/9, 116 saves and a 170 ERA+ in 204.1 IP. Because of these numbers, he would get a whopping 27.6 million dollars over 3 years. This comes out to 9.2 million dollars annually.
While Jansen’s numbers lag behind Papelbon’s during their first 4 seasons, Jansen put up a 222.1 IP 177 ERA+ 4.28 K/BB in his first 4 seasons leading up to his first arbitration year, Papelbon put up 230.0 IP a 256 ERA+ and 5.09 K/BB, they are comparable financially. Jansen harnessed his control last year, lowering his BB/9 to a career low 2.1/9 while still striking out 13.0/9, only had a 1.88 ERA and a sub 2 FIP. ZIPS is a believer in Jansen as well as he’s projected to have a 1.91 ERA and a 1.96 FIP.
The extension would probably have to be similar to how much Papelbon made during his arbitration years, so start at 9 million a season and since the team would probably like some security, do a 4 year deal. At 4/36, it’d be shorter and slightly more lucrative than Huston Street’s extension it’d be close to double what Jim Johnson made during his arbitration run, and would nearly match Papelbon’s arbitration years in terms of AAV and give the team a year of Jansen’s free agency at a fairly reasonable 9 million dollar figure. 4 year deal 36 million a season for a player just entering arbitration setting the player up for a big payday once he reaches 30 years old would be a solid move by the front office in my estimation.