WASHINGTON — Last offseason, the Washington Nationals elected not to retain closer Mark Melancon, instead setting sights on Los Angeles Dodgers flamethrower Kenley Jansen.
On the eve of the Nats’ first 2017 series vs. the Dodgers, it’s worth revisiting what happened, what didn’t happen, and what could have been.
Going into his first experience as a free agent, Jansen had averaged 42 saves and a 2.32 ERA. The Nationals reportedly offered him five years, $85 million, or $23 million more than the San Francisco Giants gave Melancon in a record deal for a closer, in early December.
The deal would have broken the Melancon record deal and moved him geographically closer to his native Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island off the East Coast. But it wasn’t enough for Jansen, who took $5 million less to stay in L.A.
“That was really serious. They were absolutely aggressive,’’ said Jansen told the media of the Nationals’ offer. “It was just a family decision. We wanted to stay here. I wanted to stay here. They gave me a second chance in baseball (converting him from catcher).
“I feel at home, and I just didn’t want to leave home.”
With Melancon, Jansen and Alrodis Chapman all off the board, the Nats turned their eyes to the trade market, entertaining offers with the White Sox, among others. But when nothing materialized, they went into Spring Training without a clear pecking order in the ‘pen.
It’s arguable that the strategy has worked, as the Nats lead the National League East by 10.5 games, the second most of any division in baseball (Astros, 13.5)). But they also have nine blown saves as a team, tied for third-most in the National League, and have shuffled through a host of hurlers in the closer role.
Meanwhile, Jansen is enjoying the best start of any closer in baseball, and indeed the most accurate start to a season of any pitcher, perhaps ever.
On Friday night, he recorded four strikeouts in a 12-inning classic vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. This gave him 40 strikeouts for the season, breaking the record for most strikeouts to begin a season without recording a walk.
Forty strikeouts and no walks in 23 innings across 22 appearances this season. He also given up only 15 hits and four runs, giving him a meager 1.17 ERA. In addition, Jansen has struck out nearly half of his batters faced (47.1 percent).
The Nats are scheduled to face Dodgers starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Clayton Kershaw in this series. They better hope they can score runs early because breaking through against Jansen is unlikely.