Rumors swirled that the Dodgers were perhaps not going to be the financial powerhouse baseball witnessed over the past several years. With the new CBA agreements in place and a roster that did not need any real major overhaul, the Dodgers remained well-positioned in the National League West, and the possibility of a quiet, low-spending winter in Los Angeles seemed real. Over the last few days, however, LA followed their Rich Hill reunion by signing two other key members of their 2016 team, positioning themselves for a World Series run and at the same time preventing a key NL foe from nabbing their outstanding closer.
Per Ken Rosenthal, the Nationals made some noise with regards to signing closer Kenley Jansen as recently as last week:
Sources: #Nationals making a push for Kenley Jansen, joining #Dodgers, #Marlins.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 8, 2016
Having failed to gain traction with the Pirates on trading Andrew McCutchen, and losing out to the Red Sox on Chris Sale, DC tried to remain in the mix for Jansen. The Dodgers, however, equalled or surpassed the Nats’ offer, and retained their closer on a five-year, $80 million deal:
Source confirms: Jansen and #Dodgers in agreement on five-year, $80M contract. First reported: @JimBowden_ESPN.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 12, 2016
Five years is a long time to rely on a relief pitcher, but their status as a team with the financial resources of the Dodgers, and a team as ready to win in the present as the Dodgers, makes it a more palatable transaction.
Jansen led all relief pitchers in fWAR in 2016, posting 3.2 wins over the course of 68.2 innings. He has thrown at least 50 big league innings since his first full season in 2011 and has been as reliable as any other reliever of his caliber and from a personal standpoint. From a personal standpoint, he sure seems less volatile than Aroldis Chapman, who recently signed a similar deal, albeit more expensive, with the Yankees.
For a reliever who averages 94+ miles per hour, it is also beneficial that Jansen predominantly throws his cutter rather than a slider. Last season he used his cutter a whopping 88.07 percent of the time, splitting the other minimal percentage of pitches between a slider and sinker. This repertoire usage does not guarantee a healthy arm by any means, but it does potentially mitigate his chances of an elbow blow-out when compared to a pitcher who regularly throws a 95 MPH slider.
An overview of the pitching woes of the 2016 Dodgers further demonstrates the importance of signing a reliable reliever. Last season the Dodgers threw more bullpen innings than any other team in baseball. With a rotation that went through 15 (yes, 15) starting pitchers, their bullpen arms were taxed more than any other team’s relief corps. Bringing back a key member, one who struck out 104 batters in fewer than 69 innings, is a positive move in the shorter-term, and years one-through-three make this signing look strong. The fact that LA also prevented their main rival for the pennant from acquiring Jansen makes the transaction all the better.
On the other side of the scorecard, the Dodgers also re-signed 32-year-old late-bloomer Justin Turner to a four-year deal worth $64 million. Turner is a local product who grew up in Long Beach, and attended college at Cal State Fullerton (where he won the 2004 College World Series). His fit in Los Angeles has been remarkable, as Turner transformed his career at the ripe age of 30.
Turner joined LA going into his age 30 season having posted a meager 0.3 fWAR across his entire MLB career. He never figured things out with the Reds (the team that drafted him 2006) nor did anything click with the Mets, who acquired him in 2011.
Since joining the Dodgers however, Turner has been an excellent contributor on both offense and defense, and his signing may end up being the steal of the 2016 offseason. Though he is coming off a career year, in which he hit a career-high 27 home runs (half of his career total), his skillset is also one that should last into his mid-30s. He plays solid third base defense, hits for average, and has some pop. Since returning home to Southern California, Turner has posted seasons of 3.2, 4.1, and 5.6 wins respectively (per FanGraphs). He may be on the wrong side of the aging curve, but if he’s starting his decline anywhere in the range of the production LA got out of him in any of those three seasons, Turner will be worth his contract.
Assuming something in the range of $7-9 million per win on the free agent market, four years/$64 million looks poised for some decent surplus value for the Dodgers, especially when compared to Yoenis Cespedes’s four-year/$110 million deal.
With the Dodgers’ signing both Jansen and Turner, in addition to inking number two starter Rich Hill, Los Angeles is well-positioned to take on the Cubs and Nationals as divisional powerhouses making a run at the NL pennant. While Jansen’s contract may be an overpay in the long-term, and there is risk at the backside of the contract, the Dodgers can afford the financial hit to ensure stability for the near future in what previously was a taxed bullpen.
Justin Turner’s fit in LA has gone swimmingly since day one, the Dodgers hope their four-year deal with him will yield fruit in the postseason and he can maintain the production they’ve seen since his arrival. Signing a player with down-ballot MVP consideration for $16 million in average annual value is always a positive, especially for a team this close to a World Series.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano