NORTH PORT, Fla. - Before the Braves even engaged with free agent Kenley Jansen, their new closer, general manager Alex Anthopoulos sat down with Will Smith, last season’s closer, to see how he felt about it.
Smith quickly gave Anthopoulos his blessing.
“I want another ring and I want another parade, and if this makes the team better, I’m all in,” he said, according to the GM.
Thus, the Braves signed Jansen to a one-year, $16 million deal Friday night. The right-handed Jansen, the longtime Dodgers closer, makes the Braves’ bullpen much stronger.
The move signifies the Braves’ intent to try and repeat as World Series champions, a message they’ve sent repeatedly this week.
In 2021, Jansen posted a 2.22 ERA over 69 innings. He has a 2.37 ERA over 12 big-league seasons. The 34-year-old has twice been the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year and is a three-time All-Star.
The plan is for Jansen to be the club’s closer and for Smith to be another high-leverage reliever who could earn saves here and there.
“Bullpen depth during the season is exceptionally important,” Anthopoulos said. “You play 20 games in a row and so on, and you can’t pitch guys every night. We were successful in the postseason because we had days off, but it’s different during the season to get there.”
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
And that last point – getting to the postseason – is where we should start in breaking down this move. After the Braves fell to the Dodgers in seven games in the 2020 National League Championship Series, Anthopoulos focused on how to get over the hump in the postseason. How could his club take that next step?
Then came this perspective shift, which he recalled over Zoom on Friday night: “I remember one of our staff members, people that work with me, were still preaching we have to get there. I was so caught up in upside and ceiling and so on. I lost sight a little bit of the fact that, yeah, it’s hard to get there. You need depth in order to get there. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to still try to build for the postseason, but we’re building for the postseason.”
Jansen gives the Braves yet another quality reliever. He joins Smith, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter and Collin McHugh. The Braves’ bullpen appears talented and deep, the perfect combination in what’s shaping up to be a difficult NL East.
Since 2011, Jansen has finished with an ERA under 2.50 six times, including three sub-2.00 ERA seasons. He has struck out 36.8% of the batters he’s faced in his career and has only walked 7.3% of them. In his postseason career, he boasts a 2.13 ERA over 63 1/3 innings.
The Braves were contenders before signing Jansen. This move reinforces that fact.
Anthopoulos said the Braves would love to add an impact starting pitcher, but that hasn’t presented itself in free agency or on the trade market. Given this, the Braves asked themselves: How can we make the club better?
“Solidifying the bullpen, making it deeper, shortening the game, giving guys proper rest to be able to handle the season is pretty important for us and a decision we decided to make,” Anthopoulos said.
And the Braves’ GM values a deep bullpen.
“If you have designs or plans on being a good, competitive team, you most likely will be in close games,” Anthopoulos said. “The thought is always if you have a lead, you have three relievers, four relievers. Well, you might be down a run, you might be down two runs, and keeping the game close and giving yourself a chance to come back. And likewise, if you have a lead and the other team doesn’t have a very good bullpen, they’re probably not throwing their best guys.”
The Braves are adding to their bullpen – they’ve signed Jansen, McHugh and righty Tyler Thornburg in the span of a few days – at the optimal time. Three years ago, they rebuilt their bullpen during the trade deadline, which Anthopoulos said isn’t ideal. As a general manager, Anthopoulos said, “it’s one of the worst experiences you can have. It’s expensive, it’s hard, every contending team can use bullpen, so the supply-demand ratio is not in your favor.”
Jansen’s signing caps a wild week for the reigning World Series champions.
They traded for first baseman Matt Olson, which signaled the end of the Freddie Freeman era. They gave Olson the most lucrative contract in team history. They signed McHugh and Thornburg, and brought back outfielder Eddie Rosario. Now they signed a well-known closer with plenty of postseason experience.
Anthopoulos’ wife and kids planned to fly down to Florida on Friday, but their flight was canceled so they instead drove. They were scheduled to arrive in Sarasota at 11:40 p.m. Anthopoulos, who began addressing reporters at 10:25 p.m., joked that signing Jansen was “a race against the clock.”
The Braves are better now than when they opened camp. Their GM has not rested much.
Anthopoulos said he hadn’t talked to his family much over the last week, so he was excited to be a dad and a husband again for a couple of days before his family departs.
“It’s been a tiring week, crazy week, emotional week,” he said, “but I’m really excited about the things we were able to get done.”