The Dodgers will enter a new period in 2023. The evolution of this ball club as a perennial contender since the early 2010s coincided with the rise and peak of Kenley Jansen as one of the premiere closers of our generation, and once he left via free agency, this front office went out and acquired the other historical name of this period, in Craig Kimbrel.
Now, Jansen wasn’t the same pitcher in his final years in LA, and calling Kimbrel’s 2022 tenure with this team underwhelming is sugar-coating it, but over the last decade or so, the Dodgers have had a bona fide closer in their bullpen.
Now, it’s not like this club was operating in a closer by committee before this, in fact, the Dodgers have had well-known closers in this century, such as Jonathan Broxton or Takashi Saito, and most notably Eric Gagné. Javy Guerra wasn’t a ninth inning guy, he was just a rookie pitcher that admirably filled that role in 2011 before Jansen assumed the reins.
The point though is that even if the Dodgers wanted to go out and utilize their significant budget room with plenty of money coming off books, to among other things, acquire an established closer, the market doesn’t really provide the option, not with Edwin Diaz returning to the Mets on a record-setting, $102-million deal.
Another option, believe it or not, would be to bring back Jansen after his one-year spell in Atlanta, but that feels like trying to recreate something based on the past. Jansen is still a serviceable closer, but he is nowhere near the shutdown option he was a few years ago. It doesn’t really make the most sense to allocate a decent chunk of your available money for this year on a closer that’s no longer a top-five guy in the game.
It’s going to come a year later than we expected, but the Dodgers will likely go into the season without a defined closer, and that’s okay.
The goal for this ‘pen should be to stockpile reliable arms for high-leverage spots in the postseason. The ninth inning is irrelevant when you blow the lead in a must-win playoff game in the seventh inning, with not one, not two, but three relievers coming to the hill.
It’s also fine to rely on a closer and not work by committee through 162, but Ryan Pressly’s production wasn’t the main reason why the Astros’ bullpen excelled, that was the fact that at any given point Dusty Baker was sending out another arm with 50 or so innings, an ERA below 3, and an above average strikeout rate and stuff.
The Dodgers ‘pen wasn’t bad in 2022 by any stretch, and it’s not this one change that’s going to significantly alter that in 2023. But the fact remains that it’s better to maximize your budget room and scouting process by acquiring as many names with legitimate plus stuff, and upside, then to look for and probably overpay for that one closer who just happens to be available in the free agent or trade market.
The 2022 Dodgers should be the ultimate example of how your bullpen can be superb even with a below-average closer, so why would you go hunting for that ninth-inning-only guy, especially if there isn’t a single great option out there?
Rely instead on the likes of Evan Phillips, Yency Almonte, and Daniel Hudson. Try and bring back a Chris Martin, and bring in another experienced name or two into the fold, and see where that leaves you.
It’s a brave new world for the Dodgers’ pen, one without the figure of a historically significant closer looming over the rest of the bullpen, and one in which multiple pitchers will and should be expected to pitch and shut down the opposing team’s offense in the clutch moments.