Dodgers think fondly of Atlanta pitcher Kenley Jansen

For most of the time he was managing the Dodgers, Dave Roberts rarely had to go to the bullpen before the ninth inning.

If the Dodgers were in the lead, he didn’t have to say anything. He knew Kenley Jansen would loosen up, warm up and prepare to come in and finish the game.

“Of course he would,” Roberts said. “I understood him, he understood me.”

Roberts added appreciatively, “He made my job a lot easier.”

That constant will have faded this season after Jansen signed a one-year, $16 million contract with the Atlanta Braves on Friday night — the news was still leaking out at the Dodgers’ spring training facility a morning later.

“He dominated for a long time and was always there, every year,” said Clayton Kershaw, a teammate of Jansen who dates back to his minor league days. “He went out there and did what he was asked to do. We will miss him, I will miss him.”

Catcher Austin Barnes added: “It’s going to be weird not having him to fight with him. But I’m happy for him, I’m going to Atlanta, I got a good contract and I’m sure he’ll be good there.”

Although Jansen had one of his most productive seasons in 2021, when he posted a 2.22 ERA and converted 38 of 43 saves, a return to the Dodgers never seemed on the cards.

Jansen was looking for another lucrative contract at the age of 34. The Dodgers were apparently content with their current crop of assists and were comfortable using a closer-by-committee system when needed.

Kenley Jansen hugs Austin Barnes after a final.

Kenley Jansen, left, hugs Austin Barnes after recording a final against the Cincinnati Reds in September.

(Aaron Doster/Associated Press)

“That’s part of the hurdles, the business side of things,” Roberts said. “Where he needs to maximize his income and do what is best for him and his family, which he has clearly stated. And then, as an organization, we kind of have a – timing is important. And as we continue to move forward in what we’re responsible for, the timing just wasn’t right.”

In his 12 years with the Dodgers, Jansen became a franchise icon. He has more than twice as many saves (350) as any other pitcher in team history. His 701 appearances is also more than any other Dodgers pitcher.

A three-time All-Star and two-time National League Release of the Year, Jansen’s best season was from 2013 through 2017, when he had five consecutive sub-3.00 ERAs and made at least 40 saves three times.

Jansen has been inconsistent in recent years. He had a 3.01 ERA in 2018, a career-worst 3.71 ERA in 2019, and a 3.33 ERA in 2020, and at times lost his spot as the club’s exclusive ninth-inning gun.

Despite boasting excellent postseason numbers in his career (2.13 ERA, 18 saves and 92 strikeouts in 57 games), he was also the focus of several disappointments in October ahead of the team’s 2020 World Series title, which some factions caused the fandom to question his role, even showering him with boos on occasion.

However, Roberts put those recent struggles into perspective on Saturday, describing Jansen as “a great dodger” who was central to one of the most successful tracks in team history.

“I think there’s been some opinions over the last few years that he wasn’t what he should have been and that’s completely wrong,” Roberts said. “I think things are magnified up close, which they should be. But this guy was as reliable as any in the game’s history. So the numbers don’t lie. They really don’t.”

Does Roberts think Dodger fans have realized how good they had it?

“Here’s what I’m going to say,” Roberts said, adopting a diplomatic tone. “As a fan, you cheer on your players and your team and you’re there with them. So I think when someone’s been so good and sometimes they’re not as good as you’ve seen sometimes, I think fans get upset about that. And they have every right to speak their mind, but I think we’re going to look back and the same fans who booed him are going to look back and say, ‘Man, he was a friggin’ Dodger.'”

Roberts didn’t shut the door on a possible future reunion with Jansen, noting that his contract at Atlanta is only for one year.

“Maybe we’ll see him again,” Roberts said. “But he’s always a Dodger.” Dodgers think fondly of Atlanta pitcher Kenley Jansen

Andrew Schnitker

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