When it comes to priorities this off-season, the Dodgers face a similar scenario as they did a year ago. Just as last winter’s main goal was to bring back Zack Greinke before worrying about anything else, this year the focus is once again on their own free agents. While there’s certainly other needs and areas that could be addressed, nothing appears more imperative than the return of Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen. Bringing both players back should be priorities #1 and #2 for the Dodgers.
But which one is which? Who should be #1 and who should be #2? Undoubtedly, the hope is for both guys to return, but the Dodgers could be forced to choose between bringing back one or the other. As we saw with Greinke’s departure last year, the front office has been hesitant to deal out long-term, expensive contracts. One has to figure the price tag for both Turner and Jansen won’t be cheap, especially given that each guy is among the best free agents available at his position.
Adding to all this is the fact the Dodgers are reportedly in serious debt. And although reports of such debt may be overblown a bit (you can read more about that here), it still may play a factor in signings this off-season.
So, what if the Dodgers were forced to choose? Do you part with your starting 3rd basemen, who’s been one of the best hitters on the team over the last few years? Or, do you let your All-Star closer, who’s been as dominant as they come, walk away?
It’s an interesting question, and one could surely make the case for either player.
The argument for keeping Justin Turner
When the Dodgers signed Justin Turner three years ago, they likely thought that they were getting a fine role player and perhaps someone who could platoon for them at 2nd, short or 3rd base. A utility guy, if you will. They ended up getting a little more than that.
Fast forward to today as Turner hits the free agent market as the best 3rd baseman available, and is expected to cash in fairly well this off-season. He’s been one of the Dodgers most dependable hitters over his tenure with the club, slashing .296/.364/.492 with an OPS of .856. His power stroke has also continued to develop, as he clubbed 27 home runs last year, leading the team.
Turner is definitely someone the Dodgers would love to have return. However, many other teams would also love his services, so if they truly want him back, they’ll need to open up their checkbook. Most believe Turner will haul in a contract somewhere around 3-5 years at close to $16-$20 mil a year, which is a reasonable price for his value.
If the Dodgers were forced to prioritize between him and Jansen, they could favor Turner for a few reasons. An everyday player almost always holds more value than a relief pitcher would, especially when you’re talking about a middle of the order kind of bat. And regardless of how unlikely it is that Turner has developed into that type of hitter, that’s the reality. Taking away the #3 guy in the lineup would be a blow to any team, but maybe even more so for the Dodgers, who already have a left-handed heavy lineup (we won’t go into Turner’s reverse splits right now.) Replacing 27 home runs wouldn’t be easy, especially with the lack of other options available if Turner leaves.
The next best 3rd baseman free agent this year is Luis Valbuena. If you’re asking, “Luis who?” you’re not the only one. Point being, there is a drastic drop off in options at 3rd base after Justin Turner goes off the board. The same cannot be said for closers this year. Kenley Jansen is not the only top reliever out there, with guys like Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon among others also being available.
If the Dodgers were unfortunate enough to lose out of Jansen, they could still possibly fill his spot with another equally capable player. On the other hand, if they lose Turner, they could be stuck with God only knows who at 3rd base… maybe that “Luis guy” if they’re lucky.
Another factor that could play a role is Turner’s desire to return to Los Angeles. Growing up in Southern California, Turner seems to love L.A and playing for the Dodgers. Not to say that Jansen wouldn’t also like to come back as well, but he’s suggested that his decision might be more about dollar signs than anything else. Could that mean the Dodgers get a home town discount on Turner? Perhaps, although there’s no guarantee of that.
The argument for keeping Kenley Jansen
A dominant closer isn’t something to take lightly in baseball. Not every team has one. Not many teams have one. But the Dodgers are fortunate enough to be one of the teams that do.
For the last six-plus years, Kenley Jansen has been a steady presence at the back end of the Dodgers bullpen. He’s recorded 189 Saves, a franchise record, and posted a 2.20 ERA and 13.9 K/9 rate over his career. He possesses one of the best cutters since Mariano Rivera, and continues to be one of the top closers in the game.
So yes, like Justin Turner, the Dodgers would like to retain Jansen’s services too. Also like Turner, Jansen is expected to make a pretty penny this offseason, with estimates being anywhere from a 4-6 year deal at around $16-$20 mil a year. Again, the Dodgers will have to be willing to sign that check if they really want him back.
So why should the Dodgers prioritize signing Jansen? Well, we saw first-hand just how valuable a player like him can be in the playoffs. He was brought in for more than one inning on multiple occasions, including that spectacular Game 5 performance against the Washington Nationals, where he threw a career high 51 pitches. Jansen was as dominant as any other reliever, and that’s saying something in a year where we saw guys like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman excelled like they did.
A superior bullpen is one of the biggest assets a team can wield. We all saw the Kansas City Royals ride theirs to the World Series a year ago, and teams like the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs both showed again this year that great relief units can go a long way. And if you need any more proof about how valuable a good reliever core is, just ask the San Francisco Giants.
The Dodgers had one of the best bullpens in baseball in 2016, but that was anchored by Jansen. If he were to go, it would be a huge void to fill, especially if they can’t acquire any of the other aforementioned free agent closers on the market. If they can’t re-sign Jansen, and happen to miss out on others like Chapman and Melancon, there’s really no ideal internal options for the Dodgers. Joe Blanton, this year’s set up man, is also a free agent and likely won’t be back. Sure, they could try someone like Adam Libertore or (gasp!) Pedro Baez. Maybe even young guys like Yimi Garcia and Jacob Rhame could emerge as candidates as well, but none of those options would figure to fill the shoes someone like Kenley Jansen.
At 29 years old, Jansen is also three years younger than Turner. If the Dodgers are going to dish out a big contract and invest multiple years to a player, they could be persuaded by how much longer they believe each guy can still contribute at a high level.
Third base is a demanding position, and Turner already has a history with bad knees. His durability might be a concern at this stage of his career. Trusting Jansen to stay healthy and productive for the next five years might be more appealing to the Dodgers than trusting Turner for the next 3-4 years.
Hopefully this is all just a futile exercise, and the Dodgers find a way to bring back both Turner and Jansen. Each player has been vital to the team’s success in the past, and would be sorely missed if they were to leave. Having to choose one over the other wouldn’t be an easy decision, and for the sake of Dodgers fans, hopefully one the team won’t have to make.