Wednesday, February 18, 2015

With Jansen out, who steps up to close?

Bad news coming out of LA yesterday, as Kenley Jansen will need 8-12 weeks to recover from left foot surgery.  Jansen was recently working out at Dodger Stadium when he reported discomfort in that foot.  Lo and behold, he has a growth on his fifth metatarsal, so he immediately when under the knife.

The news is bad, but not devastating only because of the timeframe it occurred.  Yes, it would have been nice to get this over with all during the offseason, but Jansen had no control over that.  Instead, he'll be looking at a mid-May return, which puts him out around a month and a half.  That's much better than this happening smack dab in the middle of the season, at least.

So now, the Dodgers have a giant closer role to fill, which won't be easy considering Jansen had 44 saves last season.  Let's take a look at potential options, both on the inside and out.

Current Bullpen - Joel Peralta, Pedro Baez, Chris Hatcher, Brandon League
The first guy to jump out would be Peralta, who's been pitching in the Bigs since 2005, but only has 12 career saves.  He does get his fair share of strikeouts, though, so that could be a good sign that he can translate it to the ninth.

Baez is someone to keep an eye on.  He only has 20 games of experience last season, but throws very hard and got in some action in the NLDS.  He's also virtually unknown to people outside of big Dodger fans, which could help him against batters who are unfamiliar with him.  Hey, that's how Eric Gagne got his start years ago, so you never know.

Hatcher is very much like Baez in that he doesn't have much experience, but throws hard and keeps his walks down, so he could emerge.  I only included League because of his past experience closing, but it's a longshot.  And quite frankly, if the Dodgers have him going in the ninth, it's because everyone else has flopped so miserably, they had to resort to him.

Minor League Invites to Spring Training - Sergio Santos, David Aardsma
Santos could be an intriguing option if he can get things together in the spring.  He saved 30 games with the White Sox in 2011, but hasn't come anywhere close to that since then.  Last season was a complete disaster with the Blue Jays, compiling an 8.57 ERA in 28 games.  It's no wonder his stock is way down, but if his arm is right, the history of brief success is there.

Aardsma had two excellent seasons as the Mariners' closer in 2009-10, collecting 38 and 31 saves, respectively.  After injuries set in, he had a very good season pitching for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate last year, and went to the Dodgers after attracting interest from quite a few teams in the offseason.  Like Santos, if the injuries are behind him, then he could be a sleeper.

Free Agents - Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano
K-Rod came out of nowhere for an excellent 2014 campaign, saving 44 games for the Brewers.  He's still unsigned, and latest word is that he's seeking a two-year deal, or a $10 million deal for a season.  There's obvious hesitancy in giving him so much money, as he's about to enter his 14th season.  Plus, it's hard to know if he can come anywhere close to last season's types of numbers again.

Soriano has saved 40+ games three times since 2010, and 32 last season, albeit with seven blown saves.  So, it's a bit surprising that he still hasn't signed with any club, as he has a career 2.85 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  It could be a money thing like K-Rod, as he views himself as a top-tier closer who will only sign for what he wants.

Trade Candidate - Jonathan Papelbon
With the Phillies practically a sinking ship, you would think they'll finally be serious about rebuilding this season.  Cole Hamels is the hottest name in trade talks, but Papelbon could be right behind.  As this great article from John Stolnis points out, Papelbon is probably a better option than K-Rod, and if the Phillies eat some of his money, could be less expensive as well.

My Take:
I don't see the Dodgers reaching out for either of the big two free agents, or a trade for Paps.  The only way a trade occurs is if the Phillies really want to move on from him, but that probably wouldn't happen until later in the season. 

I do see someone from the Santos/Aardsma combination making the big club, then getting thrown into the fire.  There's no real competition in LA right now, as every other option is not a true closer.  Peralta is better suited for a setup role, and who knows if Baez and Hatcher are ready for such a role.

Spring Training just got a whole lot more interesting, as it will be fun to watch these many options duke it out and step up into that role for the first few weeks of the season.  I just hope someone can hold the fort down for the time being so Jansen doesn't feel the need to rush back too soon.  The last thing the Dodgers need is for Jansen's injury to linger all season long.

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