2016 Statistics: 68.2 IP, 47 saves, 1.83 ERA, 1.44 FIP, 13.63 K/9, 1.44 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 29
In last year’s hectic trade deadline, the Yankees hemorrhaged elite relievers left and right, dealing Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Indians to restock the farm system. That left Dellin Betances as the sole member of ‘No-Runs DMC,’ and the Yankees’ bullpen was suddenly barren after a stretch of elite performance. Although Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, Richard Bleier, and Tommy Layne all stepped up to keep the late innings a safe haven in the second half of 2016, it’s hard to count on the same overachievement next season.
With that in mind, the Yankees will be favorites to sign one of the elite closers on the market this offseason—most likely either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen. Although it’s challenging to say one is better than the other, it’s impossible to overlook the merits of plucking Jansen from Los Angeles to give the Yankees a shutdown closer to pair with Dellin Betances in the ‘pen.
Jansen, who converted from catcher to reliever in 2009 at 21-years-old, is a modern-day Mariano Rivera, predominantly relying on a cutter that sits in the mid-nineties and can flirt with 98 mph on occasion. He throws it nearly 90% of the time, and it’s obvious why. I could drone on and on about how fruitless efforts to make contact with the pitch have been, such as the .153 batting average against and 32.8% whiff rate (second best in baseball), or the wicked movement it possesses, including 9.2 inches of drop (also second in baseball), but it may just be easiest to show you how special this pitch is.
Although it may not be on the god-level of Rivera’s Hall of Fame pitch, Jansen’s cutter looks absolutely untouchable and, frankly, has been over the first six seasons of his professional career. Jansen has all you could look for in a closer—health, consistency, and a spotless track record of elite performance. Jansen’s highest ERA in a major league season was 2.85 (his rookie season), and he carries a career 2.20 ERA, along with a 1.93 FIP. Since 2011, the year of Jansen’s debut, only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman have more fWAR among relievers, and the Dodger has the fifth highest K/9 (13.94), tenth lowest ERA, and tenth most innings (381.2 IP) in that stretch.
Jansen has hit the disabled list just once in his major league career, a result of offseason surgery to remove a growth from a bone in his foot, and he has less mileage on his arm than other top relievers thanks to his background as a catcher. Only a year older than Dellin Betances at 29, Jansen is part of the contingent of three or four relievers who are undoubtedly the best in baseball.
If there’s one issue with Jansen, it’s the qualifying offer attached to him that will result in the loss of a first-round draft pick for the team that signs him. Still, considering only 66% of first-round picks even reach the big leagues, forfeiting the 17th overall pick isn’t a huge deal for the Yankees. Refusing to sign Jansen because of the qualifying offer would be far overvaluing the value of a draft pick, so this shouldn’t stop the Yankees from making a bid on the flame-throwing righty.
Although Jansen could very easily return to Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be an upset to see him on the Yankees to start 2017. He’s probably a better pitcher than Chapman, and the argument to choose Jansen over him is made especially strong considering Jansen hasn’t been the subject of a domestic violence investigation. While Jansen will cost a first-round pick while Chapman won’t, it appears he’s not demanding as much money and doesn’t have the worrisome bouts of wildness that Chapman sometimes experiences. There’s no arguing both are elite relievers, but Jansen might have a slight edge, and the Yankees would be thrilled to have a new cutter-throwing closer in New York for the foreseeable future.