Why Did the Red Sox Sign Kenley Jansen?

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I love Kenley Jansen, one of the best relief pitchers of this era. The man has 391 career saves going into the 2023 season. He’s been worth a whopping 22.3 FanGraphs WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in just 769 career innings. But, when Jansen was the biggest offseason signing for the Red Sox to that point at two years and $32 million, there could be asked a lot of questions about what the hell is the team’s plan here?

This news came on the same day that the Yankees resigned Aaron Judge to a nine-year, $360 million contract. I’m quite certain Judge turned down an extra year on the contract from the Padres and Giants to remain with the only professional baseball organization he’s ever known. Yes, we know the Red Sox were outbid on outfielder Mitch Haniger (by the Giants even). They’ve missed out on a lot of the top starting pitchers. Yes, Jansen is great, and the Sox can use him, absolutely no doubt.

But, this signing tells me one of two things. The first and very likely explanation is that Jansen was always a part of a much bigger plan. But, so far, they got outbid on everyone who wasn’t Chris Martin or Jansen. There are still good names out there after all, many of whom I still think help this team out. The second explanation is that the Red Sox are just saying, hey we signed one of the top closers of the past decade just to show they are trying.

Whatever the case, Jansen is great. he is absolutely excellent. The red Sox no longer have to worry about the ninth inning. Considering the crazy way that relief pitchers are suddenly making bank, this contract isn’t that nuts. Is he a 2 WAR pitcher, which a $16 million salary would suggest? I can’t see why not. He’s been worth that before; he was worth 1.8 WAR with the 2021 Dodgers, for example. But, paying a premium for the name recognition and some late inning certainty isn’t a stupid plan.

What’s funny here is that we know the Red Sox are trying to build a super bullpen. For example, Tommy Kahnle rejoined the Yankees, but only after the Red Sox bid them up for his services. Does the Boston front office really think building a maxed-out bullpen is the way to make this team a winner? Well, it is a strategy. Middling teams can win a few extra games than expected because of a strong bullpen. It’s certainly not a losing strategy unless you’re the Colorado Rockies and just sign guys you’ve heard of before. The Red Sox at least have signed actually productive guys in Jansen and Chris Martin, as well as a good flier in Joely Rodriguez.

What bothers me about this strategy is that it more looks like this: “we’re running with the other guys we have and these guys will protect whatever leads we have going into the late innings.” It feels like this organization is willing to roll the dice and hope to get lucky. I just feel this is a strange way to spend money for a team that absolutely fell flat on its face in 2022 and expected TOMMY PHAM of all people to be the savior…

After, freaking ROB REFSNYDER was your starting right fielder! I love Rob, but he’s not going to hold down the job for a whole season. Sure, they do have Trevor story for shortstop, but Kike Hernandez is a big question mark in center field. First base is probably fine with Casas and Hosmer. Devers has third base locked down, at least for 2023. Verdugo needs a big year in right field. Second base is a platoon situation. They are two or three lineup pieces away from being a contender.

Fortunately, the Red Sox did make a good move to improve their outfield situation with the Japanese on-base and extra-base machine Masataka Yoshida. Apparently, they outbid the Yankees for his services, thus the sudden reunion of Judge and the Bronx Bombers. So, now they don’t need Refsnyder to play every day. Whether his bat translates to MLB or not is a big question mark, and 5 years and $90 million isn’t exactly cheap, but he’s a great option.

Still, even with Yoshida in the fold, the only way these bullpen signings make sense is if out of nowhere the Red Sox sign Carlos Correa. With judge back to the Bronx, Trea Turner becoming the Phillies franchise shortstop, Bogaerts signing for 11 freaking years with a team that already has two shortstops, and both marquee pitchers (Verlander and deGrom) getting paid absurd money, Correa is the last guy who just changes the direction of your franchise.

OK, let’s sign one more impact free agent; THEN, we can talk about the bullpen. Heck, I’ll take Dansby Swanson at this point, who even after a brilliant 2022 I still always thought was underrated. You’re not winning this division standing pat and hoping Kenley Jansen turns every single one run game into a W, and that chris martin, joely rodriquez, and a bunch of random arms can get the lead to him. At least now you can hope that Yoshida is the next batting-half of Shohei Ohtani. It’s a bit absurd to have that expectation, but at least he’s a legitimate lead-off hitting threat.

This is just a bizarre way to retool a team. I’m excited for Kenley, as he’s one of my favorite bullpen pitchers of all time; I always go after him in MLB the Show and have literally had him on the Red Sox multiple times. But, seriously, this team needs at least two more bats in addition to Yoshida.

Now, if they get also get Kodai Senga for the starting rotation, then this is a weird strategy, but at least it makes sense.

After all, man, Xander went to San Diego for 11 years, $280 million… hey, maybe the Sox can trade for the Padres’ Ha-seong Kim? Who knows. Anyway, welcome to Boston, Kenley Jansen!

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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