(Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
After taking a quick glance at the social media landscape on just about any given day, many fans of the Dodgers are continuing to express their extremely strong opinions surrounding the contractual decision of reliever Kenley Jansen, creating an almost apocalyptic sense regarding the upcoming 2017 campaign.
The truth is that spring training and the regular season will indeed commence for Los Angeles with or without the reigning NL Reliever of the Year in the bullpen, but if Jansen does decide to pitch somewhere else, a successful run at a fifth consecutive NL West title may hinge on how the management crew of the Dodgers pieces together the team’s relief corps moving forward.
Initially, looking at the number of outstanding free agent relief pitchers just shortly after the World Series, a large number of fans were hoping not just for a Jansen signing, but perhaps a complimentary setup man as well, seeing that effective firemen such as Mark Melancon and Aroldis Chapman were available for the taking.
However, not long into the autumn months came the rumors of the Dodgers aiming to drastically reduce the team’s payroll, thus shattering the dreams of huge splashes of trades and free agent signings during baseball’s Winter Meetings in early December. Melancon signed a record-breaking deal with the Giants, and Chapman eventually blew Melancon’s record away, signing a five-year, $86 million contract with the Yankees, with the Dodgers being quiet the entire time. The Cubs even stole away Wade Davis away from the Royals, leaving many Los Angeles fans wondering why the front office crew couldn’t put together a better offering than a single outfielder in Jorge Soler. A closing combination of Jansen and Davis would have been lethal; and just in case Jansen scored a huge contract elsewhere, Davis would have been a formidable option to close.
Even a few low-to-mid level relievers have signed deals recently, as notable arms such as Fernando Rodney and Koji Uehara inked lucrative contracts with rival squads, with the Dodgers still being completely silent.
Sure, there are tons of rumors as fans are constantly scanning the free agent lists in attempts of assembling their own backup plans for the Dodgers’ bullpen. David Robertson has been the center of many trade talks, but Robertson’s peripheral stats last season were among the worst he’s recorded in recent history. Alex Colome‘s name has also been mentioned in trade rumors encompassing a package-type deal, yet the Los Angeles front office seems to be steadfast in hoarding its group of some of the best prospects in the game.
In-house options do exist. The Dodgers have several very talented young arms in the forms of Adam Liberatore, Josh Fields, Grant Dayton and Josh Ravin. It was only at the beginning of last season that the team’s relief corps appeared to be in shambles, before the magical spreadsheets of the front office along with the masterful manipulation of manager Dave Roberts molded on of the best bullpens in baseball.
Outside of that one center-cut, slow-spinning offering about once an outing that often turned into a game-breaker for the opposition, Chris Hatcher has one of the finest repertoires of pitches in the majors. The same can be said for Pedro Baez‘s development, except for the frequent long balls surrendered when the game was seemingly always on the line. With a few successful adjustments and fine-tuning, though, Hatcher and Baez could have a chance at contributing highly.
Is it possible to miraculously repeat last year’s effectiveness without Jansen at the back end?
Despite the inactivity from the Dodgers so far, there are a few free agents hanging around who could fill a slot or two in the Los Angeles ‘pen. We’ve already mentioned Greg Holland, who is returning from Tommy John surgery after missing all of last season. Joe Blanton is still available, but could be demanding a contract in the $7-8 million range. Pitchers like Neftali Feliz, Brad Ziegler and Sergio Romo could conceivably be signed for medium range salaries, providing additional depth. Even somebody like Chris Withrow or Shawn Tolleson could strengthen the Oklahoma City bullpen in his own quest of returning to top form.
If all else fails, a closer-by-committee philosophy could be utilized until somebody emerges as the squad’s best option.
In the end, without a doubt, Andrew Friedman and his crew have some kind of plan in mind whether Jansen stays with the Dodgers or heads elsewhere. And based on the current line of movement, the troops may begin to reveal that strategy once Kenley makes his final decision. Part of the plan, however, may very well depend on certain free agents staying available until Jansen makes his commitment known.
Whatever the outcome may be, there’s still 162 games of trial and error, mixing and matching, in addition to an entirely new trade deadline next July. And most importantly, there’s certainly no need for the fan base to panic so soon after a potentially unfavorable decision from Mr. Jansen.