2016 Stats: 1.83 ERA, 1.48 FIP, 1.95 DRA, 104/11 K/BB, 2.4 WARP
How He Fits: Highlight 2016 Stats. CNTL-C. CNTL-V. Done.
Big news, guys. I’ve crunched the numbers, run the simulations, and it turns out that the Cubs can probably find a place for the best relief pitcher in baseball.
Kenley Jansen’s statistics from last season are the kind that make batters wonder who broke in to MLB headquarters and set the game on “Nightmare” level. As a point of comparison, Mariano Rivera’s greatest year by WARP (2.8) was 2005. His slash line from that season read: 1.38 ERA/2.18 FIP/2.25 DRA.
As presently constituted, Jansen takes the WHIP of Rivera (0.67) and combines it with the K/9 of Craig Kimbrel (13.6). At the rate he destroys hope, the only ones who can stop him are the Care Bears.
Like Rivera, Jansen leans heavily on a late moving cutter from hell that he threw 88.6 percent of the time last year. His average velocity on the cutter is 93.6 MPH but in September, he amped it up to 95.2.
Put it all together and Kenley Jansen is what Stephen King would have created if he ghostwrote The Science of Hitting.
And as you recall from the NLCS, Jansen is also perfectly cool with adapting to modern day relief usage, going two innings in Game 2, 1.1 in Game 3, and three in Game 6. In that time frame, he gave up a grand total of one hit and struck out ten.
With Aroldis Chapman exploring free agency, the Cubs currently have an opening at “hitter’s worst nightmare.” Jansen would fill that nicely.
Why It Won’t Work: The biggest question regarding Jansen centers on the contract it would take to land him. Do the Cubs want to commit the kind of dollars and years it will take to land a short reliever entering his age 29 season? Answer unclear, ask again later.
According to the MLB Trade Rumors “Sure, That Sounds Like a Good Guess” Department, Jansen’s value lies somewhere in the five year, $85 million territory. And this might be before factoring in a bidding war with the Dodgers and Giants. That means the Cubs would be committing somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 million to Jansen, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, and Ben Zobrist over the next three years (if Heyward chooses to exercise his option for 2019).
That becomes important because within that time frame, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javy Baez, and Kyle Schwarber will all become arbitration eligible. In addition, the Cubs will have to figure out whether or not to extend Jake Arrieta and will also have to look into how to rebuild a playoff caliber rotation if he leaves and John Lackey utters a line of authentic frontier gibberish that includes the word “retirement.”
Suddenly, committing $17 million a year for a closer becomes a bit more problematic–even for a truly elite arm like Jansen. If the Cubs start want to lock up some of their core of players while continuing to take shots at another World Series, it would probably help to have as much flexibility as possible.
Yes, I just used the phrase “another World Series” and it wasn’t a typo. If you need to find me for the rest of the day, just ask for the person high-fiving everyone in Chicago.
Also important to consider: during his time with the Dodgers, Jansen’s entrance music was TuPac’s “California Love.” In order to make him feel welcome at Wrigley Field, the Cubs would have to substitute a suitable song about Illinois. And no closer in baseball wants to take the mound to Dan Fogelberg.
Alternatives: Should the Cubs not wish to go the route of a free agent closer, Jed Hoyer has promised that they will explore “creative solutions” to fill the role. This is where I should remind you that perhaps the best bit of news in this entire offseason is that LaTroy Hawkins is not planning a comeback.
If Hector Rondon recovers from his late season triceps injury, the solution to the closer’s role could end up being the player the Cubs used for two-thirds of 2016. Of course, given how Joe Maddon used him during the postseason, Hoyer and Theo Epstein might want to hold a press conference just to reintroduce Rondon to his manager.
Carl Edwards, Jr. could be another in-house option. Maddon certainly gained more and more confidence in him as the year went along and as long as he can convince the braintrust that he can be effective in back to back days, his stuff certainly plays at the major league level.
But even if Edwards can’t get the job done, Maddon could always ask him to get the first two outs of the inning and then bring in Mike Montgomery. That seemed to work out OK last time.
Lead photo courtesy of Jon Durr—USA Today Sports