On his first official day as closer of the Boston Red Sox, Kenley Jansen was ready for his name to be called.
On the day in which his two-year, $32 million deal with the Sox became official, the 35-year-old explored his collection of more than 400 pairs of Air Jordans, selecting the perfect red-and-white model to match his new home uniform. Though Jansen has a long list of accomplishments and experiences — three All-Star appearances, three trips to the World Series including a championship in 2020, three All-Star berths, and the eighth-most saves (391) of all time — the opportunity to claim residence at Fenway Park represented a special moment.
“[Fenway Park] is one of my favorite places to pitch,” said Jansen. “When you come to Fenway, the history behind it, you feel like a kid again. That’s what I felt when I was in another uniform playing here. It’s a beautiful place to pitch. The atmosphere, seeing how intense the fans are, they get it … Now that I’m a part of the Red Sox family, it’s going to be even more exciting.”
Jansen’s arrival represents a significant change to the structure of the Red Sox bullpen. Last year, the Sox shapeshifted at the end of games, emerging as one of three teams (along with the Rays and Twins) without a pitcher with at least 10 saves.
Ultimately, the Sox felt that the unsettled roles in the late innings contributed to 29 blown saves (sixth most most in the majors) and woeful 4.59 bullpen ERA (fifth worst). Jansen gives the Sox an identified ninth-inning presence who will allow them to work backward when trying to steward leads through the late innings.
“What he’s accomplished to this point in his career speaks for itself,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I don’t think you could look at ways to improve your bullpen and not think about Kenley Jansen … You’re talking about someone who has done this job for about as long as anybody has done it, on the biggest stages, and that’s something that I think will help everybody throughout our pitching staff. It will help the rest of the bullpen kind of settle in. It will help young pitchers break in. It will help our starters feel more comfortable. That was something we really wanted to focus on.”
Jansen said he was elated when his agent, Adam Katz of Wasserman, informed him that the Red Sox were one of the first teams to reach out about his availability at the GM Meetings in November. Then, last week during the Winter Meetings, Jansen said that he and his wife were watching a movie (”Rocky II”) when Katz called back to inform him that the deal had quickly come together.
The Sox pursued Jansen not only because of his ninth-inning experience but for his longstanding excellence in a bullpen role. In his career, Jansen has a 2.46 ERA with 13.0 strikeouts and just 2.6 walks per nine innings. He’s been durable, making at least 65 appearances in nine of the last 11 seasons (including 2022, when he had a 3.38 ERA and National League-leading 41 saves for Atlanta in 65 games), and his cutter — which he threw 64 percent of the time last season — remains one of the most effective weapons in the game. Moreover, Jansen’s array of experiences and personality give him a chance to emerge as a leader of the Red Sox staff.
“Kenley brings a lot of intangibles,” said Bloom. “He’s going to set a tremendous example for all of our young pitchers about what experience in those moments means, what poise in those moments mean, so that’s certainly a big part of it, as well.”
With Jansen, righthander Chris Martin, and lefthander Joely Rodríguez on board with holdover relievers Matt Barnes, John Schreiber, and Tanner Houck (presuming he doesn’t end up in the rotation), the Red Sox believe they’re deeper and better equipped to help navigate close games than they were a season ago.
While the offseason following a last-place finish has been defined by the loss of Xander Bogaerts, Jansen suggested that he relishes a chance to help the Red Sox reestablish their credentials as a contender.
“The weight that the name ‘Red Sox’ carries gets you excited, gets your adrenaline going,” said Jansen, who will continue to wear No. 74. “You know this is a historic organization. It’s all about winning here. It definitely gives me even more focus to continue, to get back in that weight room, work hard, and try to be a better player next year.”