The Case For Keeping Kyle Kendrick


I know, Kyle. Grit your teeth like the rest of us. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There was some mild uproar when Phillies GM Ruben Amaro (in a Philadelphia Inquirer interview) seemed perplexed at the idea that he wouldn’t offer Kyle Kendrick a contract to avoid arbitration this offseason:

"“I don’t know why people are asking about that. We will [bring him back].”"

It came across poorly, in a typical “out-of-touch-man-driving-your-favorite-team-into-the-ground” kind of way. He doesn’t comprehend the apprehension of fans at another season of the homegrown pitcher who has been mediocre at best during his 7-year career in the Majors.

There is one problem though. As much as fans don’t like his matter-of-factness, he is, actually, correct.

Tendering a 29-year old starter a one-year deal for a projected $6.6 million is hardly a prohibitive cost for a team with one of the largest payrolls in the majors.

And listen, if Kendrick’s new contract extends beyond 2014 for any reason, I’ll be picking up with pitchfork with everyone else. But let’s picture his new deal matches projections.

Think about the role he’s being ask to fill – no one expects him to replace 2010 Roy Halladay – the Phillies rotation is in a year of transition, and a competent fifth starter is needed – that’s it. This is not even committing to that much:

After noticing this Fangraphs article from 2010 about the nonexistence of fifth starters, I went through the 2013 season and noticed that only THREE teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland) had five starters with at least 24 starts.

Now, due to injury to another starter, that could become true of the 2014 Phillies while Kyle Kendrick still makes a full season of starts, but I’d be willing to bet that if he struggled enough, we’d be seeing Jonathan Pettibone/Adam Morgan in Philadelphia at some point this season, with Kendrick moving to the bullpen.

Also, if there IS some injury to another starter, isn’t Kyle Kendrick the kind of starting pitching depth that we’d look back and complain at the front office for not planning for?

Kyle Kendrick is no ace. He’s got a career 4.38 ERA, 4.66 FIP and 4.50 xFIP. But, he’s projected to only cost us a $6.6 million, 1-year contract; let’s a take a look at who we might replace him with.

Remember: TWO rotation spots need to be addressed this offseason, not just his.

For starters, we aren’t signing two big name free agents.

Even if the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes the Phillies as the disaster zone that it is and donates $100 million for this offseason, there’s no reason to think ownership will go beyond the luxury tax threshold (if they’ll go that high).

In fact, I’d be willing to bet that in year where the Phillies aren’t given a very good chance at winning anything, ownership will be hesitant to even go as high as the team’s highest opening day payroll ever, 2012’s $170 million.

Let’s put that as the absolute ceiling. The Phillies already have $122.5 million guaranteed between 8 players this season, so that leaves  $47.5 million dollars between 17 other players.

With arbitration eligible players Antonio Bastardo, Ben Revere, and Kevin Frandsen (but leaving out Kendrick) projected to make a total of $4.8 million, and with holes in the outfield, two rotation spots, a catcher, and let’s say two bullpen arms, eight players will make league minimum (~$0.5 million each).

So, we have six holes to fill, and $38.7 million left to sign them with.

Starters like Ervin Santana and Matt Garza (serviceable, but overpriced) are likely to make $17-20 million a season for 4-5 years – how comfortable are you with the idea of paying 35-year old Ervin Santana $18 million in 2018? Might we look back at that as a classic desperate Phillies overpay?

Second-tier starters (and Masahiro Tanaka, after the posting fee) like Bronson Arroyo, Ubaldo Jimenez, Hiroki Kuroda, and will make $12-15 million AAV. Again, is a guy as inconsistent as Ubaldo Jimenez worth multiple years and possibly tens of millions more just to get away from Kyle Kendrick one year early? I’d say they aren’t.

Guys more in Kendrick’s price range all still cost more than him. Injured Josh Johnson stands to make $8 million plus incentives. Scott Feldman and Scott Kazmir each look to make $8 million for each of two seasons, and probably his best comp, Paul Maholm, is projected to sign for about $7 million this season.

All of them (save for the wildcard, Johnson) have career ERAs in the same range of Kendrick: 4.62, 4.16, and 4.28, respectively.

Signing any one of the top guys by themselves would be possible, but trying to sign one of them PLUS a second tier guy could add roughly $31 million to payroll, leaving about $7.7 million to sign a right-handed, power OF bat, a starting catcher, and two non-imploding bullpen arms.

Even if you only want one bullpen arm, that’s nowhere near enough money. Re-signing Carlos Ruiz (probably the 4th most expensive starting catcher) could add $7 million alone to the payroll.

In addition, there are a lot of reasons to only have a one-year commitment to a 5th starter. Have you seen the free agent class next year? Clayton Kershaw (chances are he won’t make it to be a FA, but whatever), Max Scherzer, Justin Masterson, Homer Bailey, and Jake Peavy headline the group.

It would be nice to not have money committed to five starting pitchers next season (especially if a 5th starter’s production is easily replicate-able in any number of options annually).

If you can find a guy who fits the bill, is cheap, and only a one year commit, it makes sense to keep them.

In addition: let’s envision a scenario where Kendrick puts up his numbers from 2012 for only the first half of the year: an ERA around 3.90, a solid BB/9 of 2.8, and SO/9 of 6.5 (this is actually worse than his first half of 2013).

Let’s also suppose Jesse Biddle shows in AAA that his rough second half of 2013 WAS just related to his persistent illnesses, and is knocking at the door.

At the trade deadline, Kyle Kendrick becomes a tradable commodity with somewhat similar value to 2013 deadline trade chip Bud Norris.

The Astros managed to snag the Orioles #5 and #7 prospects in that deal, so its not outrageous to think we could get something around half as much as that (one of those two guys) if we eat part of the remaining contract – and I think we’d all still be happy to take it.

If Kendrick sucks for half the year, then move him to the bullpen; designate him for assignment; release him. Whatever. Jonathan Pettibone had 18 starts this past year, and outperformed Kendrick in the time before he strained his arm. He was worth 1.5 bWAR; Let him play out the year if Biddle or Morgan aren’t ready.

Also, one final note: Kyle Kendrick was still worth 1.0 bWAR this season. Fangraphs actually values him more, at 1.7 fWAR in 2013. He’s had a bWAR of at least 1.0 for the last three seasons, for a total of 4.3 bWAR. Feldman, Johnson, Kazmir, and Maholm were worth 1.6, -1.6, 1.1, and -0.1 in 2013, respectively.

None of them are significantly better/aren’t a massive risk. Given that many people have proclaimed that its $7 million/WAR on the free agent market, Kendrick actually was a bargain (!) at $4.5 million.

While the idea of keeping Kendrick around for another year makes no one particularly excited, the idea that we won’t be stuck with another bloated/unwise multi-year contract just to try to CREATE FOUR ACES 2.0 OMG!!!!!1! should be reassuring.

Just give Kendrick one year. Sign Tanaka, or someone similar, for about $20 million total towards the payroll, and then figure everything else out.

He’s no one’s favorite player, but he’s cheap and he fills a needed role. And really, he’s not quite as bad as everyone thinks.