The Dominoes Start Falling
As predicted in this space a week or so ago–and, let’s face it, probably a lot of other places, too–free agent closer Mark Melancon signed with the San Francisco Giants yesterday.
Remember, the premise of that piece was that the balance of power in the National League–and, conceivably, the rest of MLB as well–hinged upon which free agent closer wound up where. To recap: Melancon looked like a good bet to go to SF, while the most likely scenario for Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman saw those two re-signing with the Dodgers and Cubs, respectively.
There’s been no word yet on Jansen or Chapman, but the Melancon signing is already enough to have shifted that NL power dynamic.The Giants, a team with pedigree that came very close to taking the eventual champs to a Game 5 in the NLDS, have now filled their one insanely-glaring hole. There’s lots of chatter about San Francisco still needing another outfielder, but that comes from those who do not comprehend just how catastrophic the Giants’ closer problem was last season. If they nail down even half of those 30 blown saves in 2016, the Giants would have been a much more formidable opponent, even with the still-relatively-weak offense. Which won’t be quite so weak in 2017, new outfielder or not; you can’t underestimate the suppressing effect all over the team of those kinds of crushing defeats.
So the good Giants got better, maybe a lot better. How about the rest of the senior circuit’s power quartet? (Yes, quartet–I’ve been around too long to automatically hand contender status to the Mets.)
It says here that this all really boils down to Jansen. The Cubs, by virtue of their holding the big trophy, are in the catbird seat and can wait for whatever happens; if they lose Chapman, so what? They’ll be living in the glow for at least a few years, if not 108.
The Dodgers are not so lucky. They’re working on a long championship-less streak of their own–modest, to be sure, at 28 years, but that’s still not so palatable in Los Angeles, especially when they’ve committed about a billion dollars to the payroll to change those fortunes. They have the money to pay Jansen; they must if they gave all that money to Rich Hill, who is a nice story but threatens to turn back into a pumpkin at any time. Re-signing Jansen must be a priority for the Dodgers–otherwise they pretty much concede the division to the Giants. Simple as that.
If Jansen somehow does slip away from LA, then the team could crater. Not that it would necessarily help any of the other teams in the league; there are no real candidates out there to make a big step up to the top of the divisions just by adding a new closer (though perhaps with some other major signings an also-ran like the Marlins or Rockies could make a surge). It would just solidify the Cubs, Giants, and Nationals at the top.
Yeah, the Nationals. I don’t think they’re going to be hurt too much by losing Melancon. They hang their caps largely on their starting pitching (as evidenced by their apparent interest in acquiring Chris Sale) and lineup, and if it comes down to it, the Nats can trade for a closer upgrade in mid-season next year just like they did this year, as soon as some team with a solid fireman falls out of the race. Washington will be fine.
And how does all this affect the American League? No clue–the AL still looks like a crap shoot from here, with at least eight–maybe as high as ten–clubs with a decent shot at reaching the playoffs and winning the pennant next year.
Happy hot stoving.