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The return of a knuckleballer to Los Angeles?

The Dodgers should sign Mickey Jannis to a minor league deal in 2024

Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Oddly enough as to baseball matters, up until December 9, there was not a lot to discuss right now for a simple reason: Shohei Ohtani remained a free agent.

When I started this essay, much like those waiting for Godot, baseball fandom waited for Ohtani to make up his mind. What occurred on Friday after J.P. Hoornstra announced on Twitter that Ohtani had his choice launched a chain of events which can only be described as utter chaos with several reporters (most infamously Jon Morosi of MLB Network) nuking their respective credibility over this story.

Thankfully, we don’t go in for those shenanigans at True Blue LA — personally, I was there for the memes. I figured that the Ohtani situation would resolve itself one way or the other regardless of how much attention I paid. On December 9, all hell broke loose as Ohtani broke the news himself that he was actually going to play for a Los Angeles team for the next decade.

Now if I wanted to have a laugh, this essay could have come out a day earlier to declare that Ohtani was going to do something outlandish like sign with the United States Postal Service or return to Japan with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Come to think of it, there is an extremely underrated anime about this very topic: a midlife Japanese man has a career change into an astronaut. (Space Brothers; it’s really good.)

Ohtani was always going to do what he was going to do, proving the axiom that those who know are silent and those who do not know won’t shut up.

I skimmed what some of you did online during the hours before the declaration and some of you should go touch some grass, or at worst, eat a cookie. I have yet to encounter a mental problem that was not made better by having a cookie.

In the aftermath, instead of grand bold trade proposals (no Gavin Lux for Corbin Burnes today, although that trade is not a terrible idea) or even reluctant proposals (please do not make me relearn who Isiah Kiner-Falefa is), let us partake in a deep-cut discussion: a proposal for a minor league signing — about a knuckleballer, no less.

The Dodgers should sign Mickey Jannis and invite him to Spring Training as a Non-Roster Invitee

Mickey Jannis, for those not in the know, is a journeyman knuckleballer who was the last true knuckleballer to pitch in the major leagues until Matt Waldron debuted in 2023.

In 2021, Jannis had one start in the majors for the Orioles, where he struck out Yordan Alvarez but got lit up by the rest of the Astros lineup. It happens.

What is not widely known is what happened next. Jannis struggled for the rest of the year in Triple-A Norfolk and in 2022, he re-entered independent ball.

One might think that this turn of events was the end of the story.

Still, a strange thing happened: Jannis kept pitching and bouncing from various independent league teams to pitching in Venezuela with various levels of success and struggle.

This past season, Jannis returned to the Atlantic League and pitched for the High Point Rockers out of High Point, North Carolina.

At 35, Jannis had his arguably best season as a professional. While at High Point, in 27 games (23 starts), Jannis went 14-5 with a 4.01 ERA in 146 IP. Jannis did give up 19 home runs, as knuckleballers are prone to do. But he struck out 117 and he only walked 53. Moreover, his WHIP was 1.240. In comparison, Clayton Kershaw’s WHIP in 2023 was 1.063, bum shoulder and all.

Jannis has not posted numbers like the ones he did in 2023 since his last full season in the Mets’ organization over six years ago. The more I dug into Jannis’ stats in 2023, the more an idea just kept nagging me: what if the pitching-starved Dodgers gave Jannis a shot?

Moreover, Driveline Baseball released some footage of Jannis pitching recently. The results speak for themselves.

After all, the Dodgers resorted to trading for Lance Lynn in 2023, who was in the midst of a down year having unscheduled batting practice, and the move largely worked in the regular season, home runs and all. The 2023 postseason was an entirely different story.

Missing depth at Oklahoma City

I am mindful that a lot of depth left the Oklahoma City Dodgers in November 2023 as Matt Andriese, Tyler Cyr, Robbie Erlin, Mike Montgomery, and Mark Washington all elected free agency. Maybe, some of these folks come back, maybe not. It seems to me that depth would be appreciated and to me, Mickey Jannis would fit that bill.

Moreover, we all know the story of how Dodger legend Rich Hill (known to some as Dick Mountain) spent time in the independent league before having a career resurgence with the Oakland Athletics in 2016. Hill did not spend as much time in the independent league as Jannis; honestly, between the two pitchers, Hill’s tenure was essentially a pit stop.

Hill was not in independent ball long enough to have a stat line that Jannis put up in 2023.

Jannis has scraped and clawed away and had the best season of his career, setting a team record for wins, while leading the league in wins and being fifth in strikeouts. At best, from my perspective, I see Jannis as another Ryan Yarbrough, someone who can either start or eat innings while pitching in ways that normally one would have difficulty adjusting to.

Character counts

I have been writing essays for True Blue LA for about two full seasons professionally. When I first started I contacted various players and personnel I would like to talk to. I just had a couple of essays under my belt, but no one knew me.

Only one person even responded to me, much less agreed to talk with me: Mickey Jannis,

Jannis and I have been in infrequent contact since the interview. In 2022, I had planned to see Jannis pitch for the Chicago Dogs but COVID kept me out of Chicago that year. What struck me most about Jannis is his humanity and his common decency.

Anyone who had the career path of Jannis could or would foreseeably be bitter or less than grateful about their situation. Jannis is about as far away from the description of bitter or ungrateful as I can picture. If young pitchers at Oklahoma City needed a mentor in the subjects of not giving up and dealing with adversity.

All that said, Jannis put up some eyebrow-raising stats in 2023. The Dodgers have proclaimed their preference for “optionality” on numerous occasions. A diamond in the rough journeyman like Jannis who might have finally figured it out might just be what the Dodgers ordered.