It is very fair to say that Kyle Kendrick‘s career as a Philadelphia Phillie has been a success. In 2007, he filled in admirably in a pinch, posting a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings, one big reason the Phillies ended their playoff drought that year. His sophomore campaign was forgettable, which led to his irrelevance in 2009. The following season, Kendrick spent the entire season in the Majors, benefiting from the injury to and eventual trade of J.A. Happ, as well as the downfall of Jamie Moyer. The results weren’t spectacular, but he finished somewhere between replacement level and average. And then last year, of course, he spent time between the rotation and the bullpen, finishing with a composite 3.22 ERA.
Wherever Kendrick was needed, whether it was in the rotation, in the bullpen, or back with Triple-A Lehigh Valley as rotation filler, he did what he was told, no questions asked. You will be hard-pressed to find a better team-first player in baseball than Kendrick. That’s why, when the Phillies paid him $2.45 million last year to avoid arbitration, no one batted an eye even though his overall performance and future projections may have created cause for concern.
However, as the Phillies move into 2012, GM Ruben Amaro will need to make some acrobatic financial maneuvers if he plans to bring back shortstop Jimmy Rollins and sign starter Cole Hamels to a much-anticipated contract extension. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Phillies are already on the books for $126 million to 14 players. Five players, including Hamels, Hunter Pence, and Kendrick, are eligible for arbitration. When you account for the remaining 11 spots, the Phillies are dangerously close to the $178 million luxury tax threshold. If the Phillies exceed the tax (which would be a first-time offense), they would be penalized 22.5 percent of the amount in excess. Second-time offenders pay a 30 percent tax. You can understand why Amaro — and many others — are mindful of the Phillies’ payroll.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Kendrick at $3.2 million if he were to go to arbitration — certainly a hefty sum for a player whose role on the team is murky at best. The Phillies’ rotation is, barring any unforeseen transactions, set with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hamels, Vance Worley, and Joe Blanton. The back of the bullpen is more or less complete as well, with Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, and Jose Contreras slated to handle the majority of high-leverage situations. That leaves Kendrick as a mop-up reliever and a back-up starter in the event of an injury.
Is that kind of security worth hamstringing the team’s ability to bring back Rollins and extend Hamels, or risking the luxury tax penalty? For a better pitcher, or at least one with a more important role, the answer could potentially be different than “no”, but such is not the case with Kendrick. He has been a great warrior for the Phillies over the last five years, but his price tag now outweighs what he would contribute to the team. Between 2007-11, among pitchers who accrued 575 or more innings with 75 percent of games started, Kendrick was one of 14 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 1.7. Only four of them posted an above-average ERA in that span of time.
Not a list of guys you’d feel confident handing the ball to every fifth day, let alone handing a chunk of money that could get in the way of attaining better, more important players. Kendrick doesn’t project to be any better going forward; much of his previous success can be attributed to general batted ball fortune and the Phillies’ great defense.
The non-tender deadline is at midnight. Kendrick could — and should — be one of several Phillies not tendered a contract. It is possible that the Phillies bring him back at a cheaper salary, or in a less-logical scenario, sign him to a multi-year contract that would supplant his arbitration-eligible years in 2013 and possibly ’14 as well. Anything would be better than paying a bit player upwards of $3 million with an already-clamped budget.