Not long ago, it would been almost impossible to imagine anyone but Kenley Jansen serving as the Dodgers’ closer. But after an uncharacteristically pedestrian 2019 season for the long-dominant right-hander, Jansen may not be a lock for the role next year. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Monday that Jansen’s still the team’s closer as of now, but LA “will see how things play out” in regards to the job (Twitter link via Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times).
Whether the 32-year-old Jansen will even be a Dodger in 2020 isn’t necessarily etched in stone, as he could opt out of the remainder of his contract. In all likelihood, though, Jansen’s going to stay put. Abandoning what’s left of his deal would mean leaving two years and $38MM on the table, which would look like an ill-advised move in the wake of the season Jansen just had.
Jansen earned his current pact – a five-year, $80MM guarantee – on the heels of an otherworldly 2016 showing, and while he continued to thrive the next season, he has been closer to good than elite since 2018. At least in comparison to his past self, Jansen was fairly ordinary this year. He posted a 3.71 ERA/3.48 FIP with 33 saves on 41 tries over 63 innings, giving him a personal-high ERA and a career-worst blown saves total. While Jansen did log 11.43 strikeouts per nine against 2.29 walks – a ratio just about any pitcher would sign up for – it’s not as impressive for a hurler who regularly posted a K/9 in the 13-14 range during his halcyon days.
Jansen was a key factor for the Dodgers in past playoff runs, but that wasn’t the case this year during their first-round loss to the Nationals. He threw just 1 2/3 innings during the Dodgers’ five-game defeat, including two-thirds of a frame in the decisive matchup of the series. By then, the Dodgers were already down 7-3 after an implosion from Joe Kelly.
Even though Jansen seemingly lost some of LA’s trust in 2019, he’s still likely to return as one of the team’s top relievers next season. Jansen and the rest of the club’s bullpen faced their fair share of scrutiny throughout the campaign, though, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Dodgers make a noteworthy effort to improve the unit over the winter. If the Dodgers end up in the market for a new closer, Aroldis Chapman (should he opt out of his Yankees deal) and Will Smith stand out as a couple potential free agents who could give the club an end-of-game upgrade over Jansen.