To understand why the Red Sox signed Kenley Jansen, let's take a trip to Toronto.
It's last April, and the Red Sox pitching staff is in flux because of right-hander Tanner Houck's refusal to get vaccinated. His absence prompts the move of right-hander Garrett Whitlock to the rotation and then disaster ensues.
The Red Sox lose the opener when journeyman Tyler Danish surrenders an eighth-inning grand slam to Bo Bichette. They lose again when Jake Diekman yields a game-tying homer to George Springer in the ninth. They lose the finale, 1-0, when Whitlock gives them three worthless innings as a starter that might've actually won them either of the first two games in relief.
With no one to close out wins, they flounder, losing 13 of 17. They never really recover from the emotional toll of late-game uncertainty en route to a last-place finish.
Alex Cora can diplomatically say whatever he wants about riding the hot hand late in games, but there isn't a manager in baseball who prefers to operate without a closer. In Jansen, the Red Sox just landed one of the best in the business.
He has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal, and in addition to finally bringing a marquee acquisition into the fold after a series of near-misses, the Red Sox can say they've addressed one of their most glaring weaknesses, too.
Jansen led the National League in saves (41) with the Braves after making three All-Star teams during 12 productive years with the Dodgers. And while the 35-year-old has a heart issue worth monitoring, he has otherwise been a model of reliability, making at least 50 appearances in every non-COVID season since 2011.
It's fair to wonder how different last season would've looked if the Red Sox had signed Jansen to a one-year, $16 million deal instead of the Braves. While the defending World Series champs won 104 games and went 26-18 in one-run games, the Red Sox finished last and blew more saves (29) than all but two teams in the American League. Along the way, we were forced to watch save opportunities go to the likes of Hansel Robles, Ryan Brasier, Austin Davis, and Jeurys Familia, with predictable results.
Jansen changes that, and at a perfectly reasonable rate in a market that has already seen Mets All-Star Edwin Diaz score over $100 million.
MLB Twitter has strong reaction to Red Sox signing free agent Kenley Jansen
It's clear that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has prioritized the back of the bullpen early this offseason, and you'll get no complaints here. The Red Sox have spent a little over $50 million, all on relievers. During an age when advanced metrics limit even above-average starters to five or six innings, building a dominant bullpen is the quickest path to contention.
Jansen joins former Dodgers right-hander Chris Martin (two years, $17.5 million) and Mets left-hander Joely Rodriguez (one year, $2 million) in a revamped Red Sox bullpen that still includes holdovers John Schreiber, Houck, Matt Barnes, and maybe Whitlock, who is planning to start, but could turbocharge the 'pen.
Reliever performance is notoriously volatile, but Jansen represents as close to a sure thing as exists on the market. While bouts with an irregular heartbeat required surgery in 2018 and have resulted in multiple trips to the injured list, including last year, he has otherwise stayed healthy.
There's also no doubt about who he is. Like Yankees great Mariano Rivera, Jansen relies on a filthy cutter that allows him to dominate both right-handed and left-handed hitters. He used to throw it 100 mph, and he can still hump it up to 96 when he rears back, but it remains a devastating offering at 92.
Walks can be an issue, but that's a quibble. With a lifetime postseason ERA of 2.20, Jansen is as battle-tested as a reliever gets, and he immediately makes the Red Sox better. After being spurned by the likes of Jose Abreu, Zach Eflin, and Andrew Heaney, the Red Sox just landed a player who could make a bigger impact on the 2023 season than any of them.
They sure could've used him last April in Toronto.