After Kyle Kendrick was blitzed yet again, this time during Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs, it became clear that it was going to be really hard to stomach giving him the millions of dollars many think he’s going to get after this season is over.
On Sunday, Kendrick gave up five runs on eight hits six innings, a start all-too-typical of Kendrick here in the second half of the season. Over his last 12 starts, Kendrick is 3-8 with a 6.23 ERA and has allowed an incredible 94 hits in 65 innings.
And as Kendrick enters his final year of arbitration, the Phillies have a decision to make. Do they sign Kendrick for however much it’s going to cost to keep him as the #4 starter in the rotation (behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Miguel Gonzalez), or do they go a different direction and perhaps spend a bit more on a pitcher that doesn’t put the ball up on a tee at quite the same frequency that Kendrick does?
Needless to say, Kendrick has cost himself quite a bit of money, regardless of whether the Phillies non-tender him or not (and the smart money here says they won’t non-tender him). When he opened the season with a 10-6 record and a 3.46 ERA in his first 16 starts, on the heels of a 7-4 record with a 3.20 ERA in his final 12 starts of 2012, it sure seemed like a contract extension was on its way.
Of course, any decision on whether to keep Kendrick should depend on what role the Phils plan to have him fill, and for how much.
If Kendrick is going to go back to being what he was during the 2011 season, that is, a long man out off the bullpen/#5 fill-in starter, and the cost is around $5 million a year, a deal like that makes a lot of sense. Those types of pitchers are extremely valuable over a 162-game season, and it keeps from over-exposing Kendrick’s many flaws.
But if the option is to slot Kendrick in as the #4 starter again next year at a price near $7-8 million, they should go in another direction.
If the Phillies do decide to go in another direction, what are their options? Happily, there seem to be a few.
If you’re looking for an innings-eater and perfect #4 starter, Cincinnati’s Bronson Arroyo may be the perfect guy. Yes he’s old, 37 next year, but is still a solid Major League pitcher who piles up the innings and gets outs. In 27 starts this year he’s posted an ERA of 3.66 in 172 innings and is a ground ball machine. He’s finishing the final year of a two-year $28.45 million deal that paid him $11.5 million this year. Another two-year deal at around $11-12 million a year sounds like a lot, but would likely be a bit more stable than $8 million for Kendrick.
The Phillies could take a chance on a young pitcher with some injury issues, like Toronto’s Josh Johnson. Johnson has had an injury-ravaged 2013 season, going just 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA and a WHIP of 1.660. He also has a 4.52 ERA over 272⅔ innings the last two years. That’s not too good. However, his K/9 IP of 9.18 this year is actually better than his career numbers and his K% of 21.6% is right in line with his career numbers. However, his HR/9 IP rate is more than double the norm, and his fastball velocity is down about 2 mph from where it was when he was so effective with Miami (although it still averages about 92 mph). Johnson made just 16 starts this year, was shut down for the season last week, and has dealt with forearm tightness and inflammation in his triceps, which most belief has caused that drop in velocity. If Johnson is able to pass a physical, he’d be a good buy-low candidate for the Phils.
One other intriguing possibility for a rotation upgrade is Ubaldo Jimenez who, after struggling in 2011 and 2012, has bounced back a bit for the Cleveland Indians this year. Jimenez has a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts and is striking out a career-high 9.11 per 9 IP. His 23/2 K% is the second highest of his career, even though his velocity is at an all-time low of 92 mph (was 96 in 2009). The problem with Ubaldo is his walk rate, which is 11.9% (not atypical for his career) and 4.65 BB/9 IP. On the positive side, Jimenez turns just 30 years old next year, and even though there is an $8 million option for 2014, Jimenez has the right to void the last year of his deal because he was traded from the Rockies to the Indians last year. It’s almost a certainty he’ll do that. Jimenez would be more expensive than Kendrick, for sure, but would also be an upgrade in the middle of the rotation that would make the Phils more competitive.
Some possibilities include some expensive possibilities, including Matt Garza, Jorge de la Rosa, or Ervin Santana, and some big names with dwindling ability, like Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum.
But if the Phillies really are determined to be better in 2014, they cannot go into next season paying Kyle Kendrick $8 million or more to be a #4 starter. It’s time to give Kendrick the role he had in ’11 that made him so successful, all while keeping that salary at $5 million or less.
Anything other than that, the Phillies should say bye-bye to Kyle Kendrick.