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The argument for Kenley Jansen on the Giants

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He’s very good and the Giants need him. But there are other words, too.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Hello. My name is Grant, and I’m bad at general managing. You might remember me from previous offseason dalliances in fan-fiction, and I was recently at it again over at Royals Review. I gave the biggest contract of the offseason to a closer, and I signed a 36-year-old declining hitter who can’t field to a four-year deal. AMA.

I can explain myself, though! When I signed fake Kenley Jansen to a fake six-year, $140 million contract, it was because I had been strung along in the three previous simulations for the premium free agents, only to watch their prices spiral into the make-believe land of Monopoly money. David Price got nearly $300 million in last year’s simulation, and Yoenis Cespedes got $200 million.

My goal this time wasn’t to be realistic with the money, but to be realistic with the final roster.

And then everyone decided to be way more realistic with the fake money this year. Thanks. Thanks a lot, everyone. Way to make me look like the big idiot.

Focus on Jansen, though. I wouldn’t really be in favor of him signing for six years and $140 million, not even close. But I would be in favor of the Giants giving him a lot more money than they’ve ever contemplated giving a closer before. Part of that has to do with Jansen being an elite arm, and another part of that has to do with this season showing us just how devastating a rotten bullpen can be to a team, as well as how important a dominant bullpen can be to a team’s postseason hopes. This season, man. Opened up my danged eyes. Now I’m a zealot.

More than all this, though, my argument for preferring Jansen to a much cheaper (and draft-pick free) Mark Melancon comes down to three reasons:

  1. Jansen is a converted catcher who doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his arm
  2. Jansen mostly throws one pitch
  3. It’s a magic pitch

Those three points make me think Jansen will have longevity, and that he isn’t just the typical “sign him for the first three years, and take your lumps for the last three years” kind of free agent contract. He wasn’t a teenager who threw 140 pitches on the showcase circuit. He doesn’t rely on a 103-mph fastball. He’s not getting hitters out with a slider that breaks four feet or a curveball that turns his elbow into marmalade.

He throws a cutter. Over and over again, with varying, unpredictable movement. He’ll mix in a slide-curve thingie (about six or seven percent of the time) and a four seamer, but for the most part he’s cutting, cutting, cutting, and not only does it work, but it allows him to dominate. His career K/9 ratio is nearly 14 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched. That’s absurd.

Jansen will also be 29 next year, which is fairly young by free-agent closer standards. A six-year contract to Jonathan Papelbon at that age, for example, would have been a delight, except you actually want to listen to anything that comes out of Jansen’s mouth.

If we’re going to the comparison well, though, there’s really no place else to go. Do you know of any other closers who threw a magic cutter over and over again, something that ends up being an unholy hybrid of fastball and knuckleball? You probably do. That pitcher could probably still get saves right now at age 47.

It’s not appropriate to compare Mariano Rivera to anybody, but it’s also not appropriate to compare Kenley Jansen to anybody else.

My main point isn’t that Jansen is going to the Hall of Fame, but that the Giants should be looking for durability and a reliever who can be stretched out for multiple innings to shorten postseason games as necessary. The real answer was to sign Andrew Miller years ago, but that’s spilled milk under the bridge and you can’t lead a horse to drink it.

We watched the Dodgers do this with Jansen, and he responded well, while we also watched the Cubs do it with Chapman, and the results weren’t nearly as encouraging.

I also trust Jansen to be effective in 2022, at least as much as any pitcher his age. I can’t say that for anyone else on the market.

So I’m sold. It’s a rare combination. Then you get into the idea where it would rankle the Dodgers and their fans, and ooooh, my stars, this is a pretty package. The biggest problem is that the Dodgers will have something to say about this, and they would also like a dominant closer for postseason purposes. They would also consider a $100 million contract for a closer to be a rounding error, so while I’m very much on the Jansen bandwagon, it’s more like I’m looking at the centerfold in Bandwagon Monthly and remarking on what a nice bandwagon it is. It’s probably not gonna happen.

If there were a button to push, a switch to flip, though, I would do it. This is a rare pitcher coming up at just the right time. There probably won’t be another one like him again for a long time, so cross your fingers and hope the Giants get lucky. I know I will be.