Back in December 2015, we wrote about a potential trade that would have brought the former Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman to the Los Angeles Dodgers. We are now in June 2016 and rumors have surfaced again that Chapman may be on the trading block away from his new team, the New York Yankees, who continue to fight to stay above the .500 mark. In this article, we are going to set up the market of comparable players and their salaries for soon-to-be free agent Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen.

Los Angeles and the Relief Market

For Kenley Jansen’s market comparison, we are going set the ground floor, comparable, and high-end of relief pitchers to help us determine how much money will find its way into Jansen’s bank account before he begins the 2017 Major League Baseball season. Our four comparables are relief pitchers Andrew Miller, Jonathan Papelbon, Aroldis Chapman, and Mariano Rivera.

Note that Jansen’s salary for 2016 is a 1-year deal for $10.65 million USD, which was a salary arbitration settlement.

  1. Andrew Miller:

2015: 4-years, $36 million USD.

The Yankees set-up (8th inning) and sometimes 7th inning arm, sets the ground floor for Kenley Jansen because Miller is not a closer and he recently signed his contract in 2015. Closers like Jansen have shown to be more valuable financially in terms of dollars and cents so we know Jansen is going to demand and receive more than the 4-year, $36 million dollars that Miller received in 2015. We also know that Jansen will be a year younger than Miller when he signed, has a career earned run average of more than two runs less than Miller, and Jansen’s arbitration-level salary (e.g., not free market) at $10.65 million for 2016 is more than Miller’s free agent salary with an average annual value (AAV) of $9 million.  Therefore, we know Kenley Jansen will at least receive a contract upwards of 4-years in length and an AAV of $9 million. He is not going to make less money than what he is making now, especially where he is having his best season to date.

  1. Jonathan Papelbon:

2012: 4-years, $50 million USD.

Papelbon is now the Washington Nationals closer, although he signed his deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. The AAV of his contract is $12.5 million. However, Jansen’s dominance and better statistics will mean that Jansen will receive a higher AAV salary than Papelbon did four-years ago, which you can read about here.

“Based on his age and comparative performance to Jonathan Papelbon, Jansen’s contract will be for at least more money than what Papelbon received in 2012 (4 yrs./$50m/$12.5 AAV).”

Per Tim Dierkes with MLB Trade Rumors:

“Jansen, 29 in September, may be the game’s best reliever.  The Dodgers’ closer boasts massive strikeout rates, and he added a career-best walk rate last year.  Jansen is practically unhittable, and he doesn’t come with the off-field baggage Chapman does.  Jonathan Papelbon’s record four-year, $50MM contract for relievers could fall, as it’s possible Jansen could land a five-year deal.”

When compared to Papelbon, Jansen has a better career ERA, strikeout-to-walk ration, and he lacks the drama as well. It would be a shock if Jansen did not receive at least $12.5 million per year over a four-year contract. Despite Jansen’s lack of All-Star game appearances (Papelbon had four before hitting free agency in 2012), Jansen is simply a better and more reliable closer statistically, and he will be paid as such.

  1. Aroldis Chapman:

2016: 1-year, $11.325 million USD, which was a salary arbitration settlement.

Jansen and Chapman may as well be twin brothers when it comes to their on-the-field performances as two of the game’s best closers. They are also both free agents after the 2016 season.

As of 6/26/2016, Jansen has a 2.21 career ERA, 370.1 innings pitched, 163 saves, 112 walks, and 563 strikeouts since he entered the league in 2010. Chapman has a 2.20 career ERA, 339 innings pitched, 161 saves, 158 walks, and 577 strikeouts since he entered the league in 2010.  One could argue that because Jansen’s numbers are a bit better and with his lack of off-the-field issues, he will receive a higher AAV salary than Chapman.

Ironically, like Papelbon, Chapman has been selected to four All-Star games since entering the league, Jansen, zero. Some might argue that because Chapman suited up for a team that played under .500 (Cincinnati Reds) and threw record-breaking triple-digit fastballs, he was more recognized and beloved by the fans. In contrast, Jansen plays on a team of veterans and bright-young stars and yet just goes about his business quietly.

In case you are wondering why we did not discuss Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel as a comparable player, please keep in mind that Kimbrel’s deal at 4-years, $42 million, was signed while he was still under team control with the Atlanta Braves to buyout his remaining arbitration years and several of his free agency years. Kimbrel has never met true free agency to date (he can opt out in 2018), but he has the lowest ERA (1.69), most innings pitched (378.1), most saves (241), and the most strikeouts (608, to 141 walks) of the aforementioned Chapman and Jansen, and he is also currently 28 years-old like his closer colleagues. Kimbrel also lacks the drama, but does frequently have a cockatoo/toucan sitting on his arm.

We wrote previously about how great and underappreciated Jansen is, which you can read here:

“In 2015, Jansen struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings and stranded 83.8 percent of runners on base. Despite missing the beginning of the season because of toe surgery, Jansen dominated. Jansen had a 2-1 record, 36 saves, 52.1 innings pitched, 80 strikeouts to 8 walks, and a 2.41 ERA.”

Exploring the Zach Lee Trade

In 2016, Jansen has been even better, setting up a prime market for the Dodgers closer to cash in for a big payday:

“His 1.48 earned run average (ERA) is by far the best of his career (.73 of a run better than his career era of 2.21) and he is also on pace to save more games (47) than anytime in his career in the same amount of innings pitched.

One word to describe Kenley Jansen over his career — especially in 2016 — is efficient. He can induce contact on pitch one, versus a strike out on pitch three (or more), while throwing less pitches allows him to keep his arm strong . . .

[In 2015] In similar dominating fashion [to Jansen], but with a team under .500, Chapman went 4-4 with a 1.63 ERA, 33 saves in 65 appearances, and stuck out 116 batters in 66.1 innings. His career mark of 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest in baseball history among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.”

Honestly, it would not be far-fetched to see Jansen and Chapman receive the exact same contract value in terms of years and dollars. We shall see come this offseason. Imagine if one team signed both of them.

  1. Mariano Rivera:

2011-2012: 2-years, $30 million USD; 2013: 1-year, $10 million USD.

The highest-paid reliever of all-time, Rivera is also the best reliever, and closer of all-time. However, when Rivera signed his $15 million AAV deal he was 12 YEARS OLDER than Jansen will be this offseason (29 years-old vs. 41 years-old). That contract will also be seven-years old when Jansen signs in 2017. Interestingly, Jansen’s and Rivera’s career ERA’s are EXACTLY the same at 2.21, but Jansen has a superior better strikeout-to-walk rate (5.03 vs 4.10).

Per Jeff Passan with Yahoo Sports:

“Jansen and Chapman’s performances have transcended that, and the idea that they’ll push for $18 million-a-year deals is not altogether far-fetched. Mariano Rivera was paid $15 million a year for five consecutive seasons toward the end of his career, and while it was Mariano Rivera, it also started eight years ago, ample time for the market’s ceiling to grow. Chasing the money never was …”

Again, ironically, Rivera was selected to three All-Star games prior to hitting free agency after the 2000 season, Jansen, zero.  If free agency deals were based on All-Star games as opposed to performance, Jansen might be looking at making less money than some of his counterparts. Luckily, it is not, and Jansen will be paid at least $15 million dollars per year for 4-5 years. Whether the Dodgers will pay Jansen $15 million per year is yet to be seen. Maybe it is a base of $15 million, plus incentives.  Time will tell.

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About The Author

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Jeremy M. Evans is the Managing Attorney at California Sports Lawyer®, representing sports and entertainment professionals in contract drafting, negotiations, licensing, and career growth. Evans is an Outreach Captain for the Sports Lawyers Association and is an award-winning attorney and community leader. He can be reached at [email protected] or via his website: www.CSLlegal.com.

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