Not to bring up painful memories, but part of the reason Dave Roberts brought in Clayton Kershaw to pitch to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS and opted to try to get two innings out of Joe Kelly was because he didn’t have enough trust in Kenley Jansen. Roberts would never flat-out admit that, but it’s pretty clear that was the case.
This presents a problem for the Dodgers going forward. Jansen very clearly isn’t the pitcher he once was. He’s still solid, but he’s not the lights-out closer we’ve been used to. And he’s here for at least two more seasons after opting into the final two years and $38 million of the five-year deal he signed after the 2016 season. With no clear heir apparent in the organization and the Dodgers still having World Series hopes, they might need to bring in either a replacement for him or, more likely, something of a “co-closer.”
Pedro Baez isn’t that guy. Kelly certainly isn’t that guy. There are prospects/youngsters who have talent and ability (Tony Gonsolin, Dennis Santana), but no one is ready for that role just yet. Odds are, any kind of co-closer is going to have to come from outside the organization. Will Smith (the other one) would have made tons of sense, but not only do I not see the Dodgers ever forfeiting a draft pick and international signing money to sign a reliever who has received a qualifying offer, Smith was actually signed on Thursday by the Braves. Here are some guys who make sense.
RHP Edwin Diaz, Mets
The Dodgers had interest in the hard-throwing righty at the trade deadline, but the asking price was too steep. It makes sense that the Mets wouldn’t just want to give him away after a year in which Diaz, 25, went from the best reliever in the game to merely replacement-level. If the Dodgers were to acquire him, they probably wouldn’t throw him right into the role, but his 2018 shows that there’s a ton of potential in his right arm and he’s under team control for three more seasons.
RHP Ken Giles, Blue Jays
Giles, 29, had a bounce-back 2019 season after struggling a bit in 2018. He was a trade deadline target for a lot of teams, but an elbow injury a few weeks before the deadline scared all potential suitors away. He’s only under team control for one more season, but he could be a nice complementary pitcher to pair with Jansen.
LHP Brad Hand, Cleveland
Hand, 29, was a late-bloomer and has turned into one of the best relievers in the game in recent years. Cleveland is always willing and looking to deal. Hand posted career-bests in FIP and K-BB% and is locked up through this season with a very affordable team option for 2021.
RHP Jose LeClerc, Rangers
LeClerc, 26 next month, signed a four-year extension (with two friendly club options) with Texas last winter and was thrust into the closer role. He got off to a terribly rocky start that saw him lose said closer job. After working out some kinks, he looked much more like his 2018 self. I’m not sure LeClerc fits exactly what the Dodgers might be looking for, but he’s a talented pitcher who could benefit from moving out of a hitter’s park.
RHP Ian Kennedy, Royals
Before you dismiss this option, consider that Kennedy, 34, shifted to the bullpen full-time last season and was one of the better relievers in the game. He had a 3.41 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 21.0 K-BB% while serving as Kansas City’s primary closer. He’s due $14 million in the final year of his deal and I’m sure the Royals would love to get some or all of that salary off its books. There’s a bust factor with Kennedy (based on his career), but he showed well in the bullpen last season.
RHP Chris Martin, Free Agent
The only free agent on this list, Martin, 33, pitched so well in 2019 with the Rangers and was dealt to the Braves at the trade deadline. While he doesn’t have completely overwhelming stuff, he does a great job at limiting base runners because of ridiculously low walk rate (2.3 percent). With not a lot of quality relievers on the market, Martin might end up being a little pricier than the Dodgers would want to dedicate to a co-closer.
These are just some of the potential options to pair with Jansen. Some are longer-term fixes than others. Some are better than others. Such is baseball.
We’ll see what happens. I’m convinced that the Dodgers don’t want to go into next season without a capable backup or heir apparent to Jansen in the closer role.