Blockbuster Return Floated For Red Sox Closer Kenley Jansen

Jun 3, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) pitches
Jun 3, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) pitches / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
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Boston Red Sox All-Star closer Kenley Jansen has suddenly found his name on the trade block. Jansen, who ranks seventh on the MLB all-time saves list, entered the offseason penciled in on Boston's 2024 opening day roster, but the Red Sox' offseason doctrine has frustratingly put high-salaried players on notice.

The closer is also slated to be the fourth-highest paid Sox this year, and if reports about the Red Sox' insistence on shedding payroll is true (despite being well-short of the first Competitive Balance Tax threshold), purging Jansen's $16 million due in 2024 would help alleviate that concern.

The reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers have emerged as a potential destination for the 36 year old, as their 2023 saves leader Will Smith departed for Kansas City and flamethrower Aroldis Chapman remains a free agent. Jose Leclerc will remain in the Rangers' pen but the playoff closer would likely revert to his more familiar 8th-inning set-up role in the case of a Jansen arrival.

With the possibility of the Texas Rangers as a trade partner, an intriguing name has been floated as a potential return to Boston: former second overall pick Jack Leiter.

Leiter, 23, was a highly-touted draft pick who showcased pure dominance on the mound during his NCAA career at Vanderbilt University. In his collegiate career, Leiter appeared in 22 games, recording a 13-4 record with a 2.08 ERA and 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2021, Leiter strung together a preposterous stretch of 20.2 innings without allowing a hit.

Despite the generational talent that Leiter displayed with the Commodores, he has struggled mightily in AA and AAA in the Ranger's farm system. In 43 games, Leiter is a lowly 5-16 with a troubling 5.37 ERA. Leiter's strikeout numbers do still hold some signs for optimism, as he's punched out batters at a clip of 11.3 per nine innings.

MLB insider Ken Rosenthal also supplied an appraisal on the return that Boston could receive for Jansen during an appearance on Foul Territory.

"I believe he has some trade value … And because he is still performing in a role that few people can perform at very well, Kenley Jansen I would imagine would at least bring the Red Sox a solid prospect.

Not an elite prospect, a top 100 guy. But someone that they can maybe plug into their farm system and envision as a major leaguer in the future."

Ken Rosenthal

In MLB.com's most recent prospect rankings, Leiter doesn't make the cut within the top 100, ranking fifth in the Texas Rangers farm system with a 2024 MLB ETA. His stock has dropped considerably since he was drafted. Leiter was ranked as the 17th-best MLB prospect prior to the 2022 season before a rough season at the Double-A level saw his ranking plummet to 78th in the pre-2023 rankings.

Jack's father, Al, is a 19-year MLB veteran who earned two all-star nods and three World Series rings. The elder Leiter is a member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame.

The trade could render immense upside for Boston if they are able to tap into Leiter's pure talent, especially with the pitching-centric approach employed by former big league pitcher-newly turned Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow and new Boston pitching coach Andrew Bailey. The Red Sox haven't exactly displayed the "full-throttle" urgency to win now that chairman Tom Werner promised, but this hypothetical swap would be more typical of the approach the front office has exhibited this offseason in the style of dumping MLB talent and salary in exchange for younger, cheaper potential talent.

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