Keeping Janssen a no-brainer for Blue Jays

Casey Janssen (Andy King/Getty)

Lengthy playoff droughts for the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos ended last year, and for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their boisterous, euphoric fans this season. The Kansas City Royals also took a pretty solid run at stopping the game’s longest October dry-spell in 2013.

The Toronto Blue Jays? They’re firmly locked into second on the list of consecutive futile falls at 20, dating back to their second straight World Series championship in 1993, the only team other than the Royals (1985) yet to play post-season baseball this century.

Living through the frustration of routinely going 162-and-out with the Blue Jays since his rookie season of 2006, Casey Janssen can only look enviously at those still playing, and wonder when, sometimes even whether, he and his team get their shot.

“I believe it can happen, or I wouldn’t come in and compete and work hard and try to get as many guys on board as I personally can,” says Janssen. “Is it frustrating? Yeah. Does it leave a little bit of doubt, especially with how fully loaded we thought we were? It leaves that (sense of), is it going to happen, do we have the right pieces to make it happen, and if it wasn’t this year, what do we need to change.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to, one, play this game, and two, be in Toronto. It seems (a playoff berth has) to happen sooner rather than later. You dream as a kid of winning a World Series, and if you don’t see some light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for you.”

For now Janssen is eager to stay, and without a doubt what’s best for the Blue Jays is to exercise their $4-million contract option for him in 2014, something sure to happen unless general manager Alex Anthopoulos takes sudden leave of his senses.

Janssen, 32, posted the best save conversion rate in club history in 2013 by making good on 34 of 36 chances, or 94.4 per cent, slightly better than Tom Henke’s 34 of 37 (91.9 per cent) in 1992. The 94.4 mark also led the American League this year, while his 93.3 per cent (56 of 60) conversion rate since replacing Francisco Cordero as closer in May 2012 ranks fourth in the majors over that span.

Beyond the saves, he posted a 2.56 ERA and 0.987 WHIP while also striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings over 56 games, numbers all the more impressive given that he underwent a shoulder surgery last November. That dragged his fastball velocity down an average of 1.6 mph to 90.1, according to FanGraphs, reducing his margin for error and need to execute on nearly every pitch.

Regardless, based on some of the free-agent deals handed to late-inning relievers last off-season—$28 million over two for Rafael Soriano of the Nationals, $22.5 million over three for Brandon League of the Los Angeles Dodgers, $21 million over three for Jonathan Broxton of the Cincinnati Reds—Janssen could probably double his salary and add a year or two on the open market.

Add to the value of his contract his desire to be part of the solution to the Blue Jays’ problems, and his option is even more appealing.

“I would love to come back here, I hope they do pick up the option,” says Janssen, a Blue Jays fourth-round pick in 2004. “I want to win, there’s no other place I’d want to win than here. We were talking about it in the ’pen, just how great the fans were, even with the record the way it was. We talked about if it happens here, how crazy this place would be and how desperate this city is for a winner.”

For that to happen, the Blue Jays must bolster the second-worst starting rotation in baseball while addressing their other issues, and one place where they have surplus is in a relief corps that posted the American League’s fourth-best ERA at 3.37.

Anthopoulos won’t be able to keep all his relievers, with the bullpen right now likely to feature Janssen, Sergio Santos (who, finally healthy, closed the year out with a flourish), all-stars Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil (who both struggled through injury at the end), Dustin McGowan, Neil Wagner and Jeremy Jeffress, all the kind of power arms teams dearly covet.

Beyond them are Luis Perez and Brad Lincoln plus swingmen Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond, all of whom will be out of options next spring, as will McGowan and Jeffress. The Blue Jays won’t be able to option any of them without first passing them through waivers and each is sure to be claimed, meaning Anthopoulos will need to trade away a good chunk of that depth lest he lose it for nothing.

“We got asked about a lot of our guys in July,” Anthopoulos said during his season wrap-up conversation. “I don’t know how the off-season is going to go, but it would not surprise me if we used some of that depth to help the club in some other areas.”

None are likely to return in trade as much as top assets like Janssen, Santos or Delabar might, but the team must be careful about weakening one area to strengthen another. That will be part of the tricky work in store for Anthopoulos as he looks to salvage the great buildup of 2013 into a winner for 2014.

“What leaves you frustrated is it’s in there, showing its signs in the 11-game win streak,” Janssen says of the year that was. “Then you come back and have a (3-8) stretch and we couldn’t continue that momentum we had built. With the other teams we were chasing, they were playing well and it looked like they were built for the long haul. We knew the task was getting greater and greater, and kind of slipping away.

“We really liked our team in spring training and for one reason or another, it just didn’t translate on the field for 162 games.”

Janssen is among the Blue Jays who did their part to end the playoff drought. Few others did, and the wait for a fall of meaningful baseball in Toronto is now at two decades and counting.

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