Every offseason move the Braves make is viewed through the prism of October. Midseason reinforcements are always nice – last year’s whole new outfield is a historic example – but you can’t be sure in December or March what you’ll need in July. Jansen’s acquisition tells us that the Braves are now in the business of going from strength to strength.
The GM asked Smith, who’s under contract for 2022 with a club option for 2023, how he’d feel about assuming a new role. We’re told that Smith said he’d feel fine. This doesn’t mean he’ll never close here again. Bullpens have a lot of moving parts. Bullpen-building is always a work in progress.
The Dodgers have made the playoffs nine seasons running. Jansen was their closer for even longer than that. It wasn’t until the eighth try that LA prevailed. In Game 7 of the 2020 NLCS against the Braves, he wasn’t summoned to hold a 4-3 lead in the ninth. Nor was he deployed with a 3-1 lead in the closeout Game 6 versus Tampa Bay. Both times, Dave Roberts opted for Julio Urias.
Even excellent relievers have lesser years. Jansen was superb in 2021. It was his best season of the past four. In 2018, he threw fastballs 94.2% of the time. In 2021, 58.1% of his pitches were his cutter. His strikeout-to-walk ratio last season was the lowest of his career. That he has a closer’s temperament doesn’t mean he’ll sulk if the Braves choose to mix-and-match closers. The capacity to mix-and-match is why he’s here.
Yes, the Braves are without Freddie Freeman. But they’ve added Matt Olson, who’s the next best thing. They’ve re-upped Eddie Rosario, who got the winning hit off the only pitch Jansen threw in Game 2 of the 2021 NLCS. They’ve signed Collin McHugh, who fits the profile of a reliever who can serve as an opener. FanGraphs projects them to win 92 games, second most in the National League – behind the Dodgers, as per usual – and third most in MLB.
The lockout’s end has seen Anthopoulos in Hercules-unchained mode. Even with the face of the franchise now employed by a different franchise, the Braves don’t look any worse than they did 10 days ago. Viewed from a certain angle – the depth and versatility angle – they might appear a tad better.
The Braves didn’t necessarily need Jansen, but they landed him anyway. Lest we forget, they signed Kirby Yates in November. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery; he had 41 saves for San Diego in 2019. Here again is the Bobby Cox quote: “Anytime you think you have enough pitching, you’d better go get some more.”
The Braves don’t appear to be luxuriating in having won a World Series. They’re behaving like an organization determined to win it all again. They’re trying to get better every single day, which is how this is supposed to work.