Tomase: Intriguing veteran could solve ninth inning for Red Sox


With Matt Barnes a scary unknown and internal closing options not exactly plentiful for Red Sox manager Alex Cora, there's one free agent on the market who probably deserves a longer look -- Kenley Jansen.

It's easy to forget the lifelong Dodger is even available, since it's hard to imagine him playing anywhere other than L.A. and Chaim Bloom doesn't seem particularly inclined to spend big money on a "closer" just because there are a bunch of saves next to his name.

But if you're looking for a battle-tested arm to lock down the ninth inning, few have been better over the last decade than the three-time All-Star.

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Jansen is coming off what probably qualifies as a down year by his overall standards but also a bounce-back year after a middling 2019 and 2020. He went 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves. He walked a career-high 36 and didn't even average 93 mph on his fastball, making it one of the slowest in the game.

Of course, Jansen's game has never been about velocity, and even that modest number represented a significant bump over prior seasons. During his most dominant days, like in 2017 when he finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, Jansen relied almost exclusively on a cutter that evoked shades of Mariano Rivera.

He used to throw it four out of every five pitches, but as he creeps into his mid-30s, he has adapted, upping the usage on his sinker and slider to about 40 percent of his total offerings and keeping hitters off balance while still striking out over 30 percent of the batters he faced.

Outside of velocity and walk rate, the 34-year-old remained elite in virtually every Statcast metric, ranking in the top 10 percent of baseball in exit velocity, hard hit percentage, barrel rate, whiff rate, spin rate.

He then dominated in the playoffs, throwing seven scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts and allowing only four baserunners, one of them an intentional walk.

There's nothing that Jansen hasn't seen over his 12-year career, which includes a 2.13 ERA in 57 postseason appearances. There's value in that kind of experience and reliability, and the death-defying highwire act Cora had to pull off down the stretch and into the postseason last year at the back of his bullpen is neither sustainable nor desirable.

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Could Jansen bring stability? He has never pitched in the American League, so he'd have to adjust to deeper lineups and smaller ballparks. There's also the matter of convincing him to leave L.A., the only home he has known since signing out of Curacao a month after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.

But rather than wonder if Barnes can rediscover his mojo or if there's another closing candidate among Josh Taylor, Garrett Whitlock, and Darwinzon Hernandez, the Red Sox should consider paying for certainty. It's one of the advantages of being a big-market team. The Dodgers chose this tack the last time Jansen entered free agency, inking him for five years and $80 million in 2017.

It's safe to say they do not regret the expenditure, and on a two-year deal, I'm guessing the Red Sox wouldn't, either.

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