Free agent closer Kenley Jansen on Monday agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a five-year, $80-million contract with an opt-out after three seasons, sources tell Yahoo Sports.
The last of the winter’s high-end relievers, Jansen waited out a market that over just a few days netted Aroldis Chapman $86.5 million from the New York Yankees and Mark Melancon $62 million from the San Francisco Giants.
The industry loves its lock-down closers more than ever, and the Chapman and Melancon signings left the Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers with only Jansen to wrangle over. The Marlins had bid nearly with the Yankees on Chapman, then pivoted to Jansen – bringing most of those millions with them – late Wednesday night upon Chapman’s decision to return to New York.
Jansen, like the others, benefitted from that fresh appreciation for high-end relievers, especially those capable of enduring more than one inning, particularly in the postseason. Ultimately he chose the Dodgers, who stepped up after failing to extend Jansen’s contract given many opportunities over the past year.
Jansen, 29, recorded more than three outs five times in seven playoff appearances and recorded at least six outs three times. In Game 5 of the National League division series, the clincher in Washington D.C. against the Nationals, Jansen threw 51 pitches across 2 1/3 innings. Clayton Kershaw got the final two outs for the save.
The 6-foot-5, 270-pound converted catcher had his best season in 2016. He saved a career-high 47 games against six blown opportunities, none after Aug. 26. Only Jeurys Familia of the New York Mets saved more games.
Armed with his signature cut fastball, which he threw nearly 90 percent of the time and at an average velocity of 94 mph, Jansen had a WHIP – walks and hits per inning pitched – of 0.67, best in baseball for pitchers who logged at least 60 innings. He struck out 104 batters and walked 11 in 68 2/3 regular-season innings, then struck out 19 and walked five in 11 2/3 playoff innings. Opposing batters hit .150 against him. Those numbers were better, notably, than Zach Britton’s and Andrew Miller’s, two relievers presumed to have had the best seasons among relievers.
Not since Mariano Rivera has the cutter been such a dominant and reliable pitch in the ninth inning. Right-handed hitters batted .109 against Jansen. Lefties batted .191.
Jansen’s journey to the ninth inning and into free agency began in 2005, when the Dodgers signed him as a catcher out of Jansen’s native Curacao. He didn’t hit much. In 2009, with the help of former big leaguer Charlie Hough, and in spite of some reluctance, Jansen began the conversion to relief pitcher. He discovered his fastball had a natural cut, threw it as hard as he could, and about a year later debuted for the Dodgers with a scoreless inning against the Mets. He struck out two in that inning. By 2012, in spite of two terms on the disabled list because of an irregular heartbeat, the 24-year-old Jansen was the Dodgers’ regular closer. After the 2012 season he underwent surgery to rectify the abnormality.
In five seasons he saved 180 games. His ERA was 2.22.
Those left out of the closer market – the Marlins and Nationals, in particular – could turn to the Chicago White Sox, whose roster rebuild would seem to have them entertaining offers for closer David Robertson.