The Dodgers recently came to an agreement with catcher A.J. Ellis on a new contract, but Kenley Jansen‘s contract status remains unresolved. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 18th in Tampa, Florida. In the meantime, the Dodger closer is concentrating on his Spring Training in Arizona where he participated in his first bullpen session at Camelback Ranch on Sunday.
"First set of bullpen sessions include Kershaw, Haren, Wilson, Ryu and Jansen.— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) February 9, 2014"
Jansen’s contract offer submission was for $5.05 million with the Dodgers offering $3.5 million. Although there is a gap between the two numbers, Jansen told Ken Gurnick that “I’m not worried about it.” Jansen is confident with what he can offer to the Dodgers bullpen, and he has respect for all the members of the 2014 bullpen.
While I understand that these arbitration negotiations are part of the business of baseball, I don’t see why the Dodgers should be quibbling over paying Jansen even the full $5.05 million which he is asking for. The right-hander has become one of the elite relievers in the league, and his numbers last season reflect this which is something his representation will no doubt bring up in front of the arbitration panel on the 18th.
Feb 9, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) throws the ball during the first day of camp at Camelback Ranch. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
The 26-year old converted catcher earned $512,000 last season and is due for a healthy raise. Last season Jansen finished with a very impressive and dominate 1.88 ERA with 111 strikeouts and only 18 walks over the course of 75 games and 76 2/3 innings good for his best season to date since he debuted with the Dodgers in 2010. Jansen also recorded 28 saves, but of course that number doesn’t nearly echo his importance to the Dodgers in 2013. His SO/BB was an inspiring 6.17, and he held right-handed batters to a miniscule .158 batting average last season. He was extremely dominant at Dodger Stadium, and his 1.32 ERA in 41 games at home shows how important Jansen is to the Dodgers going into 2014 and beyond.
Even though the Dodgers enter the new season with the priciest bullpen bunch ever, there should be no reason not to spend a little more on their most important relief pitcher. Jansen has recovered nicely from heart surgery for an irregular heartbeat which sidelined him for parts of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and he is now entrenched in the closer role as Spring Training commences in Arizona. No longer delegated to the setup slot which the Dodgers pushed him back into when they signed the beleaguered Brandon League, Jansen’s dominance should never be wasted in favor of any other supposed closer again.
While I fully support Don Mattingly‘s use of Jansen in other high leverage situations other than the traditional ninth inning closing role, with Brian Wilson and perhaps a rebounding Chris Perez, the Dodgers will have no reason to uproot Jansen from his closing throne again.
It is very risky to sign relievers to long-term deals since they often expire after a short stint at the top of their game. Jonathan Broxton comes to mind when thinking back to Dodger relievers who fell from grace rapidly after being a dominant closer for a short spell. Eric Gagne is of course the epitome of the elite Dodger closer, and while Jansen hasn’t quite reached “Game Over” Gagne heights yet, it seems to be that Jansen is the closest thing we have had to Gagne in quite a long time.
I’m all for a contract extension for Kenley, but the Dodgers will probably decide to handle his contract status on a year-to-year basis based on his performance. That’s fine too since Jansen is still under team control for another three seasons. It looks as though this arbitration hearing is not causing Jansen to lose focus out of Spring camp thus far, and I look forward to watching Jansen close out the winning game of the World Series for the Dodgers in 2014!