As news spread Monday about the pending return of Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, many Dodgers fans felt like Christmas had come early. While other moves and acquisitions might have been met with a half-hearted, “gee, thanks,” bringing back Jansen, Turner, along with Rich Hill, is really all most fans wanted this off-season. It was the Dodgers’ Red Ryder BB gun.
But as big as that desire was, it seemed like wishful thinking. The demand for three of the top free agents on the market was certainly high. Couple that with the notion that the Dodgers were once again looking to roll in spending by cutting some payroll, and the idea of bringing everyone back didn’t look promising.
The False Narrative
About a year ago this time, many fans were feeling a little disappointed in the way the off-season had been shaping up. They had just lost Zack Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a move that surprised many folks. The Dodgers weren’t supposed to be getting out-bid on high priced free agents, especially their own players. What was going on? Disappointment turned to anger, and the Dodgers front office was often criticized for not being aggressive enough.
Before letting him walk, the Dodgers did try to bring Greinke back, and reportedly made him a sizable offer. They weren’t, however, going to do “whatever it took.” The deal had to make sense, and when Arizona up’d the offer with a sixth year and nearly $50 million more (something the Dodgers weren’t willing to do), the choice was up to Zack. And he chose to go with the highest bidder.
The Dodgers front office took some heat for Greinke’s departure, and it led to a false narrative that Andrew Friedman & Co. weren’t willing to dish out big contracts for any player, even if it was one of their own.
It’s true, this front office is definitely more prudent with their free agent signings. Inheriting such an enormous payroll upon taking over, they’ve been forced to be as savvy as possible with their moves, and have tried to maximize value. They’ve taken some risks with guys like Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarhty, and Scott Kazmir, and surely, not every move has panned out. But on the flip side, they’ve also curtailed spending a bit, and tried to put more emphasis on developing young players with a strong farm system. The goal is to be competitive year in and year out, and the best way to do that isn’t by buying every big name free agent available.
Two years of passing on big name free agents was enough to make Dodgers fans skeptical this off-season. Perhaps the team had seen the last of Turner, Jansen, and Hill. Maybe they’d bring back one, or possibly two players, but there was no way they could get all three to return, was there?
The Gang’s all Back
Bringing back the likes of Turner, Jansen, and Hill would be a difficult task for any front office. These weren’t just good free agent players; they were all the best at their respective positions. Signing all three wouldn’t be cheap, and competition from other clubs could certainly drive the cost up even more.
The Dodgers had a 3 year/$48 mil contract worked out with Rich Hill before the winter meetings even started and announced it days later. The meetings wrapped up with no news on Jansen or Turner though, and many feared at least one of those guys would be gone soon.
Other teams like the Marlins and the Nationals were in on Jansen until the end, and were said to have offered more money overall. But the Dodgers were able to close the deal with their all-time saves leader with a 5 year/$80 mil contract that allows Jansen to opt out after three years, if he chooses. No official deal has been made with Turner yet, but it’s been reported by multiple media sources that the Dodgers also have a deal in place with him for 4 years/$64 mil.
So, the Dodgers have added approximately $192 million dollars of payroll over the next few seasons. Again, it wasn’t going to be cheap.
Bringing back all three players had to come as a little bit of a shock, even to the most optimistic fan. This is the same front office whose biggest free agent contract had been the Brandon McCarthy deal in 2014. Now, in the span of a couple of a few days, they’d dish out three contracts of greater value.
Of course, the players themselves all helped contribute to the reunion. A true competitor, Rich Hill values winning as much as anyone, and knew that he’d have as good of a shot in Los Angeles as anywhere else. He also spoke highly of playing alongside Clayton Kershaw, and mentioned being motivated by his work ethic. Justin Tuner is a So-Cal kid, and was clear all along about his desire to stay with the Dodgers. And even though other teams offered a little more money, Kenley Jansen also seemed to want to return to L.A. His agent said “At the end of the day, Kenley loves Los Angeles, his Dodgers family, the fans here and although money was a factor, it wasn’t the most important thing.”
It’s nice and refreshing to hear players place importance on things like teammates, fans, and family, and not feel like they have to chase every last dollar. When a team knows a player wants to return, and is willing to meet them halfway, it only makes it that much easier to come to some sort of agreement. And luckily for the Dodgers, that was the case for all three players.
These were Good Signings… Luxury Tax be Damned
Even looking at the moves objectively, it’s hard to argue that these signings weren’t imperative for the team. If the Dodgers would have let one or more of these guys go somewhere else, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world by any means, and it sure would have saved some money. However, it would have also created holes in the roster that needed to be filled somehow, someway, and probably would have meant dealing away prospects for a return of players that weren’t as good as the ones they let get away.
Why settle for David Robertson when you can have Kenley Jansen? Is giving up on a bunch of prospects really worth Todd Frazier when you can bring back Justin Turner?
The Dodgers front office had to open their checkbook this off-season in order to be better next year, and they did that. Luxury tax be damned.
Signing Jansen, Turner, and Hill was a pleasant surprise for sure. As it turns out, it wasn’t that the front office was against dishing out big contracts in general, just that it had to be the right time and place to do so. Fortunately, that time was this off-season, and fans were able to get at least one early Christmas present.