For the first time in 17 years, after spending half his life with the Dodgers organization, Kenley Jansen reported working for another Major League Baseball club on Sunday.
He walked into the sprawling clubhouse at CoolToday Park, the Atlanta Braves’ spring training home a dozen miles from Florida’s Gulf Coast, just after 9 a.m. accomplished veteran. An improvised nameplate was stuck above the head. Jansen was scribbled on in black marker. His signature number, 74, was in red.
The closest 34-year-old donned a Braves t-shirt and an actual blue spring training hat and spent the next two hours sweating. It was both a shocking sight and a dream come true.
Jansen spent his first 12 major league seasons with the Dodgers, but grew up with the Braves in Curacao. His favorite player was Fred McGriff. Andruw Jones, the first MLB star in Curacao, became an idol. When his brother, Ardley, signed with the organization in 1999, he attended Braves spring training every year.
“That’s where this love started, man,” Jansen said.
“And yet, Jansen would have preferred a return to the Dodgers in the end. The two parties were engaged during the offseason, before the lockout and after. Within minutes of the lockout lifting, recalls Jansen, the manager of the Dodgers , Dave Roberts, texted her with a simple question: “Are you coming back?”
Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader with 350, sought a three-year contract all winter, according to people familiar with the situation, but he found no takers.
The Dodgers were one of the few clubs willing to commit to a two-year deal, but things got complicated when they agreed to a six-year, $162 million deal last Wednesday with the former first baseman of the Braves, Freddie Freeman. To keep their payroll below $290 million and avoid the resulting 80% tax rate, the Dodgers wanted Jansen to wait until they had lost their payroll before signing.
“I started to feel like the Dodgers needed to shake things up,” Jansen said. “And, at the same time, you have to face the reality of what’s best for you and your family.”
“They tried to bring me back, but unfortunately I had to make a decision and chose to be with the Braves.”
Kenley Jansen, choosing the Braves over the Dodgers
Meanwhile, the Braves, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, contacted Jansen’s representation two days later with an offer for one year and $16 million. The team gave him a few hours to decide. They were ready to move on if he didn’t agree before the deadline.
Jansen was intrigued by the idea of playing for a World Series contender and the team he loved growing up. He weighed the offer against the risk of waiting for the Dodgers, realizing the odds of landing a three-year contract so late were slim. He opted for the Braves guarantee.
“They did the legwork there,” Jansen said of the Dodgers. “They tried to bring me back, but unfortunately I had to make a decision and chose to be with the Braves.”
Jansen spoke on the phone Saturday with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. He described the conversation as “emotional.”
“I was a youngster from Curacao when I signed there,” Jansen said. “And they taught me how to be a man, how to be a father and how to be a great husband to my wife and that’s what stands out about this organization. And, also, I can say that I’m a champion and It’s awesome.”
Jansen’s decision added another chapter to an unforeseen rivalry between National League powerhouses on opposite coasts.
The Dodgers and Braves have met in the playoffs three of the past four years The Dodgers beat Atlanta in the 2018 NLDS and again in the 2020 NLCS, coming back from a 3-1 deficit en route to winning the Series Last season, the Braves toppled the Dodgers as heavy underdogs in an NLCS rematch and beat the Houston Astros in the World Series.
Last week, a twist added drama. On Wednesday, Freeman, a Braves icon, signed with the Dodgers after negotiations with the Braves ended and they acquired Matt Olson to replace him. Like Jansen, Freeman spent 12 seasons with the team to start. his major league career. Unlike Jansen, his departure was complicated.
“There are only good things I can say about the Dodgers,” Jansen said. “First class organization.”
The Braves’ bullpen helped lift the club to the championship in October, but Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos determined he was too left-handed early in the offseason. He prioritized adding right-handed relievers.
Anthopoulos said he first reached out to team closest Will Smith to assess whether the veteran would be willing to step down from the ninth-inning role. Smith gave the go-ahead. Then, it was necessary to determine which relievers were reachable. Jansen and Mark Melancon were At the top of the free agent list, Closers Raisel Iglesias and Craig Kimbrel, the only active player with more saves than Jansen, were available by trade.
The Braves were discussing a trade with the Chicago White Sox for Kimbrel, who will also earn $16 million this season before joining free agency next offseason, before landing Jansen. Re-signing outfielder Jorge Soler was another option if Jansen did not say yes.
Anthopoulos knows Jansen well. He spent two seasons in Friedman’s front office before moving to Atlanta. These two years – 2016 and 2017 – were the best of Jansen’s career. He was the most dominant reliever in the majors, smothering hitters with his signature cutter. .
But Anthopoulos said he was very impressed with Jansen’s willingness to take on a bigger workload in the 2016 playoff weeks before becoming a free agent for the first time. He completed the effort with three perfect innings in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs. winter, he signed a five-year, $80 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.
“He’s just a total team guy,” Anthopoulos said. “He didn’t have $80 million in the bank, and he didn’t even bat an eyelid. It wasn’t like he had to be convinced. He didn’t even flinch. What the hell is that? tell you about him?
Jansen no longer resides at this level of lights out. His speed has decreased. His walk rate went up and his strikeout rate went down. Last season, however, he bounced back to post a 2.22 ERA in 69 outings by mixing more shots. and sliders.
“I think we’re getting a really good reliever,” Anthopoulos said. “I don’t want to put any expectations on him. Look, I think the contract reflects that we believe in him, you know?”
When Jansen accepted that contract, he called Jones to thank him for paving the way for baseball players on their small Atlantic island. He contacted former teammates and coaches. Roberts told him he would always be part of his family. Jansen called his brother, Ardley, the former Braves minor leaguer.
“Hey, this is for you,” he told her.
It’s a dream come true for a kid from Curacao, but the door isn’t closed on the Dodgers, the contract is only for one year after all and Jansen’s family will be staying in Los Angeles all year.
For now, at least, he’ll be stepping out of “Welcome to Atlanta” at Truist Park after a decade of “California Love” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted.” Round nine at Dodger Stadium won’t be the same.