Very Preliminary Thoughts About the 2021 Closer’s Role

jansen (1)
(Los Angeles Times photo)

Even though it’s only been less than a week since the Dodgers claimed the 2020 World Series Championship, there’s already been a ton of speculation in the baseball world as to which player will open next season as the club’s primary closer.

For nine years, Kenley Jansen has held that particular role. It wasn’t since 2011 that righty Javy Guerra was the team’s main closer, tallying 21 saves and a 2.31 ERA over 47 appearances.

Obviously, during those nine years, the Dodgers never went the entire distance, aside from this season. For the last handful of campaigns, it seemed as though the team needed to turn to some alternate form of relief pitching strategy when it mattered most, as Jansen found himself faltering in some shape or form.

The big question now is whether Los Angeles starts the 2021 season with Jansen as its closer or if the team will go with an entirely different option altogether right out of the gate.

Don’t get me wrong—by the time his tenure ends with the Dodgers, Jansen will be known as the greatest closer the team has ever seen. Quite possibly, his 312 saves and 467 games finished will never be approached by another player wearing Dodger Blue. However, the time may have finally arrived when the club opts to start the season with someone else in his place.

Coincidentally, Jansen’s current five-year contract will finish at the end of next season.

I don’t know about you, but watching 24-year-old Julio Urias record the final outs of the 2020 World Series was something truly special. I can’t recall the last time I saw the young lefty consistently throw with so much authority. Seemingly, he was attacking the strike zone instead of nibbling around the edges. It just felt like the kid had finally found his groove.

Nevertheless, we all know how front office boss Andrew Friedman and his farm directors feel about starting pitching, although with the emergence of the “opener” role, the traditional starting pitcher as we know it could soon be going away. Anyway, Friedman typically holds starters in such high regard, that it’s tough for him to relegate some of them into permanent relievers.

We could see Urias fall into that category if the team’s plans are for him to throw out of the rotation, which is a completely different discussion for an entirely different time.

Still, the only other arm the Dodgers consistently turned to during the shortened 2020 campaign when Jansen was “unavailable” was righty Blake Treinen, who coincidentally became a free agent at the conclusion of the World Series.

Internally, Victor Gonzalez might be a possibility for the backend of the bullpen in 2021, as the 24-year-old young lefty seemed to mature far beyond his years just in the postseason alone. Another option might be 21-year-old flamethrower Brusdar Graterol, who continues to climb the ladder to the featured closer’s spot. Graterol is often viewed as the player many see closing games several years down the road.

Aside from Jansen, Treinen and Urias, the only other players to record saves for the team during the regular season this year were Pedro Baez and Adam Kolarek.

Looking at external options, one name that quickly went to the baseball blogosphere headlines was veteran reliever Brad Hand.

After leading the majors with 16 saves and posting a very impressive 1.37 FIP over 23 appearances this year, the Indians waived the 30-year-old lefty in hopes that some other team would claim him so Cleveland would not need to pay the $1 million contract buyout. However, as of Sunday night, early indications are that Hand made it through waivers unclaimed, which theoretically makes him a free agent.

It was as recent as the 2019 trade deadline that Hand was linked to the Dodgers, and it seemed that every year he was a member of the San Diego relief corps, he was somebody Los Angeles always wanted to pursue.

Another name that has been tossed around is free agent Liam Hendriks.

Last season, the Australian-born righty reliever made 24 appearances for Oakland, posting 14 saves and a miniscule 1.78 ERA over 25-1/3 innings of work.

Jose talked a bit about Hendriks on Friday.

Needless to say, it should be a winter full of discussions among Dodgers fans, especially as far as the 2021 closer’s role goes.

15 thoughts on “Very Preliminary Thoughts About the 2021 Closer’s Role

  1. Urias has shown the ability to go 4-6 innings as a starter so I just can’t see Andrew deciding to make him the closer, although he is certainly suited to that role.
    There will be lots of relievers on the market this winter and, depending upon how much the Dodgers are watching their payroll numbers, we could possibly even sign two of the better ones. Based on the fact that no one would pay Hand $10MM for one year, it looks as though these guys will be signing for less than that amount. The only question is how many years will they insist on.
    I’d love to see us get two of the following: Hendriks, Hand, Treinen, Colome.
    Assuming the roster stays at 26 for next season, we’ll probably have an 8-man bullpen: Kenley, Vgon, Gratrol, Kelly, Kolarek, Floro, plus two of Hendriks/Hand/Treinen/Colome. Kolarek and Floro are the two on the bubble (I doubt Kelly can be traded) so if better options could be found either or both might not make the team. Since we’ll have Price back in the rotation, possibly Gonsolin would spend a lot of time in the bp. All in all, we could have a very strong relief corps next year if we sign a couple of those good free agents.

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    1. I think it will be interesting to see if they define a role for Kenley right out of spring training, or whether they open the season with him still as the main guy back there. I guess, in theory, they could let a few of the youngsters (Gonzalez, Graterol) continue to develop until Jansen proves that he’s absolutely 100% unreliable.

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      1. I think a lot of their decision on what they plan to do with Kenley will depend on what they see from him in ST. If he looks good, he’ll probably be anointed the closer and it will be his job to lose. If, on the other hand, he doesn’t look very good in spring, they may go by committee until someone grabs the role. On the third hand, if they sign Hendriks or Hand it may be with the promise that they’ll be the closer. So, my final statement is “I don’t know”.

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  2. Unless Graterol learn to « miss bats » (currently he has a low whiff% and only 5K/9, one of the lowest of all relievers in MLB !) I don’t see him as the closer. It might (is!) a tough sell (because more Sv = more $$) but it could the time to go away with the closer = 9th inning (and vice-versa). Go matchup in the last 3 innings. Up 1 in the 8th, 3-4-5 batters up, go with your best pitcher and have a « lesser » pitcher face 6-7-8 ! The more relievers we have with high pressure late inning experience, the better !
    It might not be feasible game-by-game in the regular season (it might upset the habits of the pitchers and would need constant adjustments and communications between the coaching staff and the bullpen), but I strongly believe it is THE way to go in the PS….

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    1. I think that’ll change if Graterol’s slider develops. At least that’s what the brass is banking on. Right now, everybody’s sitting on his heater. If you notice, plenty of his outs are drives to the warning track.

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  3. The roster will be 26 next season as long as it turns into a normal season. If they have another abbreviated season, they will probably negotiate the number. The 26 was factored in before the season was shortened. As for Jansen, he probably starts the season as the primary closer. BUT, I think Doc also considers others and does not use Kenley as much back to back. He has not shown lately he can handle the load. I think Urias stays in the rotation. It will be Buehler, Kersh, Price, Urias and either May or Gonsolin. I myself would go with Tony and use May out of the pen. The rest depends on who they either resign, trade for, or sign as a free agent. Remember also that there is one trading deadline from now on and on the 1st of September, you can only add two players bringing the roster to 28 up until the playoffs. I believe they will do their best to resign Turner. Joc, and Kike and maybe Baez will be gone. Trienen might be resigned, but not for 10 mil. McGee, Wood will most likely not be back. Gray is now the top prospect in Dodgerland per the new list. May, Lux and Gonsolin no longer considered prospects. Cartaya is now the #5 prospect on the list. It is going to be a very interesting off season. But at least the monkey is off of their backs. And the future looks good.

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  4. Just read MLBTR’s list of the top 50 free agents and where they think they will sign. They have JT coming back to LA on a 2 yr, 24 mil contract. I could see that. Maybe even a little more, The one that floored me was Bauer coming to the Dodgers on a 4 year deal for 128 Million…uh, ridiculous. The Dodgers are not paying any pitcher not named Kershaw 32 Million a year.

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    1. I don’t think anyone is paying a pitcher 32 million this winter, let alone the Dodgers who don’t even have a need for him.
      I wonder if Andrew has had a chance to speak with Price yet and get a feel for whether or not he thinks he might opt out again next year. If yes, then I wouldn’t mind seeing us give Bauer a fat contract for one year. This is going to be a crazy Hot Stove season and I can guarantee you that at the end of it a lot of players are going to be very very unhappy.

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      1. I think Price will pitch. Two years away from the game and his skills would be diminished. I am pretty sure he does not want to go out that way.

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  5. Molina has been contacted by 3 other teams besides the Cardinals. Yankees seem determined to move on from Gary Sanchez. If they start discussions with Seager, no way they kick the tires on Lindor.

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    1. Everyone is convinced Lindor is being traded. In order to make a trade you have to have someone who is willing to take him. How many teams are going to be willing to take on about 20 million in salary next year for one player, and someone they can’t even be sure would stay with them beyond next year?
      It’s going to take a team that has a real good chance to win it all next year and is also willing to spend money. At this point, the Indians might be so anxious to dump the salary that it wouldn’t take much in prospects, but that would really infuriate the Cleveland fan base.
      Just to put it out there, the Mets could probably sign Springer and Realmuto and trade for Lindor and still be under the cap. If Steve Cohen wants to be King of NY…………………………………………………..

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      1. I agree. I also think Lindor is traded as soon as the Indians can find someone to take that salary. Because I simply do not think that he is staying in Cleveland. I do not think he has close ties with the team. And moving on makes sense. Especially after the down year he had.

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