What’s going on in the bullpen?
After the Chapman trade fell through, many speculated that the Dodgers would still aim for one of the other elite relievers on the trade market such as the Yankees’ Andrew Miller or the Rays’ Jake McGee. Instead, the Dodgers secured Montas in a three-team trade with the White Sox and Reds and reportedly signed Cuban import Yaisel Sierra to a six-year contract worth over $30 million. They also re-acquired Joe Blanton, who struggled as a starter in LA in 2012 but was quietly excellent as a reliever in Pittsburgh and Kansas City last season.
The new additions will be joined by incumbent relievers Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan, Carlos Frias, J.P. Howell, and current eighth-inning man Chris Hatcher. All of those pitchers excelled and struggled at different points in 2015. Garcia and Baez both have great raw potential, but it remains to be seen how well they can control their pitches and stay consistent on the mound. Hatcher was awful to begin 2015, but when he returned from the disabled list in late August, he was a different pitcher. From August 15 through the rest of the season, Hatcher was good for a 1.31 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and only three walks in just over 20 innings pitched. He eventually secured the setup man position and excelled in it through the playoffs, shutting out the Mets in each of his four appearances. There are concerns about whether he can keep that up for an entire season, but that pales in comparison to the relief corps’ most pressing issue: whether or not they extend closer Kenley Jansen.
Over the past three seasons, Jansen’s 6.3 fWAR leads all MLB relievers except Chapman – and like Chapman, Jansen is a free agent after this season. Unlike Chapman, however, Jansen checks all the boxes off the field as well. He’s described as a model teammate and even defended his fellow relievers to the media during a tough stretch last season. His relationship with Howell is thought to be a big reason why the lefty exercised his player option to stay with the Dodgers rather than seek a much more lucrative deal in free agency.
The Dodgers should have plenty of room on their payroll to hand Jansen a large contract extension if they so choose. They were in this same position in 2015, when their second-best pitcher entered his walk year and was never approached about an extension despite reportedly being open to one. Whether or not they could afford to let Zack Greinke leave in free agency is a discussion for another day. But as things stand right now, they can’t afford to do the same with Kenley Jansen.