Some two years ago, Kenley Jansen signed a 5-year, $80 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Moreover – many at that time figured this would be Jansen’s final spot as a professional – running out of the bullpen to ‘California Love’ until the sun sets on a career.
However, there is a proverbial elephant in the room in regards to Jansen’s contract. Namely, pay attention to the last sentence in the first paragraph from the original MLB.com news article.
LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers on Tuesday confirmed the signing of free-agent closer Kenley Jansen, who received a five-year, $80 million deal to remain with the club. Jansen also has an opt-out after three years.
What this means, is Kenleys is free to opt-out of his contract at the conclusion of the 2019 season to seek greener (or less blue) pastures.
Will he or won’t he? Furthermore, should we care? We pen this article to ask the questions.
Do We Want Kenley Jansen To Finish His Contract in Los Angeles?
The closer has three years remaining on his current deal. Equally important – I think it’s fair to consider Jansen a ‘drawing card’ at this stage in his career. He brings a presence, he is an icon; there has not been an experience of a closer entering a ballgame since Mariano Rivera’s ‘Enter Sandman’ routine that rivals when Kenleys enters to shut one down in the ninth.
Then again, is this really enough to desire him to get through the remainder of the deal? To know the answer to that, we must look back on the short past. That past is no further back than 2018 – the toughest year of Jansen’s big league career.
Was 2018 an Outlier Year, or the New Norm?
Jansen’s 2018 was stormy. However, looking back at his career stats; it appears that it could just be a simple outlier year. The closer faced health problems, the birth of a child, and overuse in the 2017 postseason that may have carried over. Still, the Dodgers need to learn if Jansen can be depended upon to be the guy from 2011 to 2017. If so – they have one of the top stoppers in the entire game. On the negative side, a repeat subpar year could bring about further questions.
Jansen allowed 13 home runs, and finished with a 3.01 ERA; both highs for his career. Furthermore, his strikeouts-per-nine dropped to the lowest of his career (10.3). These numbers will need to trend in a different direction for a better holistic outcome.
To emphasize, if Jansen has a similar year to 2018; it could make an opt-out a tough decision. Why would Jansen want to enter the open market and come off a healthy contract coming off two poor seasons?
Truly, the best of all outcomes is if the Southern California closer continues to be the guy he’s been known to be over his large body of work. Less questions will arise that way – both for Jansen and the organization. Another monster season could bring about Jansen testing the open market. If that happens, the Dodgers will need a contingency plan in place.
Options For Closer Beyond 2019
The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Joe Kelly this offseason to a three-year contract. Now, pay particular attention to the language within the contract. This was built in by Kelly and his agent – and the Dodgers – for a reason.
Joe Kelly's contract, as others have reported, is for at least 3 years, $25 million guaranteed with a $12 million team option for 2022. If Dodgers pick it up then it's $33 million. And that doesn't include a bunch of incentives for games finished, which is an interesting wrinkle.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) December 21, 2018
See that ‘games finished’ clause? Yep. That’s the money line in the contract, literally. This could also be considered ‘closer’s money’ if viewed by the right eyes.
I believe that the Dodgers did this as insurance against a Jansen tailspin, and you should believe it too. Of course, Kelly is just one of a myriad of options who could develop into the roll if called upon. However, it is important to remember that Kelly has these incentives in his contract that could come into play if he happens upon the role of stopper. He’s being as paid as handsomely as any set-up man in baseball. What is the reason?
One year from now, we will know the answers to much questioned within this column.
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