Phillies Must Make Tough Choice Involving Kyle Kendrick

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.

Player SO/BB IP Age G GS ERA ERA+
Brad Penny 1.70 713.1 29-33 122 120 4.50 96
Trevor Cahill 1.64 583.0 21-23 96 96 3.91 107
Jon Garland 1.62 863.0 27-31 139 139 4.16 103
Kyle Kendrick 1.62 598.1 22-26 127 98 4.41 96
Mike Pelfrey 1.59 855.1 23-27 146 142 4.38 92
Livan Hernandez 1.58 955.0 32-36 157 157 4.87 87
Barry Zito 1.57 821.2 29-33 146 140 4.55 93
Doug Davis 1.53 626.0 31-35 110 110 4.59 99
Fausto Carmona 1.52 860.0 23-27 143 143 4.52 93
Kyle Davies 1.52 617.0 23-27 116 116 5.40 80
Aaron Cook 1.51 760.0 28-32 125 124 4.49 104
Jason Marquis 1.44 765.1 28-32 132 130 4.55 98
John Lannan 1.39 751.0 22-26 128 128 4.00 103
Jeff Suppan 1.36 647.1 32-35 125 110 4.95 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/11/2011.

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.

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22 comments

  1. LTG

    December 12, 2011 08:51 AM

    “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.”

    I seem to remember this site batting an eye; and then the usual “Don’t hate, appreciate” comment-argument.

    “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’…”

    Is there a third option besides ‘yes’? I’m all for the third truth-value (neither true nor false), but the question does not seem to admit of one.

    Finally, are you using ERA because the number of innings are so large?

  2. Rob SJ

    December 12, 2011 09:30 AM

    What I don’t have a feeling for is what is KK worth on the FA market if he were non-tendered? If pitching across MLB is so thin that he gets as much or more than his arbitration offer, then he has no reason to make a lower deal here and avoid arbitration. However, if he would be in line for less on the FA market I would be good with signing him to a deal worth about $2M annually as an insurance policy, one that is likely to be used you’d have to imagine. However, since he did put up good numbers last year I have to think there is a team out there that could see him as their #4 starter and would be willing to outspend the Phillies for him.

  3. Scott

    December 12, 2011 10:11 AM

    The other option is trading him for prospects.
    Might be better all around. Kyle deserves a chance to pitch regularly. He could be a 4th or 5th starter on many teams.
    I wouldn’t write off anyone who has been tutored by both Jamie Moyer and Roy Halliday. Who knows, he may be a late bloomer who makes a name for himself.

  4. Josh G

    December 12, 2011 12:33 PM

    On one hand, I believe that every team needs a backup plan for when one of their starters goes down. On the other hand, I fail to see why that backup plan has to cost 3M. We all can’t be the Braves, I get that. Besides their young guys, consider Alfredo Alceves as the kind of pitcher I want in KKs role.

  5. Dan K.

    December 12, 2011 01:16 PM

    I want him gone if for no other reason than if he stays around he’ll block our prospects. RAJ and Cholly have made it abundantly clear that they’d rather go with a veteran than a rookie, even if the rookie will in all likelihood be vastly superior. If Kendrick stays around, I worry he’ll be our fifth starter while Trevor May and/or Jesse Biddle (not necessarily one of these guys, just one of our prospects) wait in AAA dominating everything that moves at the age of 25.

    Swing men, in my opinion, shouldn’t cost much more than $1m, anyways.

    Also, anyone else intrigued by the Francisco move? Seems like a salary dump to me (not in the traditional sense, we now don’t have to tender him a contract and we got something, admittedly not much, in return instead of just non-tendering him). Jimmy might be close to signing.

  6. Rob SJ

    December 12, 2011 01:30 PM

    Dan, my take on the Francisco trade is they decided to non-tender him and traded him for whatever they could get. I wasn’t thinking it was an indicator of a bigger move coming, today is the deadline to tender I believe so the timing is probably based on that, not on anything external.

  7. ColonelTom

    December 12, 2011 01:48 PM

    This is a no-brainer – you have to tender Kendrick, or you’re looking at Dave Bush as your #5 starter if someone goes down. He’d draw significant interest as a FA. If nothing else, Kendrick can bring us another piece or prospect in trade, either now or later in the year.

  8. LTG

    December 12, 2011 01:52 PM

    Of Note:

    MLBTR does not list KK as a non-tender candidate. Probably because common wisdom is on ColonelTom’s side.

  9. Dan K.

    December 12, 2011 02:02 PM

    Rob, I agree that is the thought process behind it, but it’s still a couple million dollars we can spend elsewhere (our OF seems fine as is to me). If RAJ has decided he likes our OF then we suddenly has a spot on the 40-man and a little bit more room to wiggle money-wise to make another acquisition.

    I should clarify that my thinking would be the same even had we just non-tendered him. It’s essentially the same results since the player we got in return has an almost 0 chance of reaching the big leagues. So really the intriguing part to me is simply that we don’t have Benny on our team anymore.

  10. Bill Baer

    December 12, 2011 02:54 PM

    There’s very little difference between Kyle Kendrick and Dave Bush. The big key is that Kendrick will cost in excess of $3 million while Bush is signed to a Minor League contract.

  11. ColonelTom

    December 12, 2011 03:01 PM

    You can dislike Kendrick, but “very little difference” between him and Bush?

    Dave Bush’s ERA+ over the last 3 years: 65, 89, 78
    Kyle Kendrick’s ERA+, last 3 years: 125, 86, 120

  12. Bill Baer

    December 12, 2011 03:08 PM

    Dave Bush K/9 and BB/9 since 2007: 6.0, 2.6

    Kyle Kendrick K/9 and BB/9 since 2007: 4.1, 2.6

    You can use any other time period you want, Bush has superior K-stuff and equivalent control. Both throw grounders at about the same rate. Those three things — strikeout rate, walk rate, and batted ball profile — predict pitcher performance significantly better than previous-year(s) ERA.

    Additionally, don’t forget about the money. That’s the most important thing here.

  13. hk

    December 12, 2011 03:19 PM

    BB,

    Unfortunately, pervious year(s) ERA is a better predictor of where RAJ will most likely spend his money. Therefore, I expect Kendrick to be tendered a contract.

  14. Jim

    December 12, 2011 03:32 PM

    I’m guessing the Phillies place a great deal of value in his versatility (pen to rotation), attitude, and cost certainty. They probably also value his good record of health, and the fact that he is about ready to hit his “prime” doesn’t hurt his case either.

    Until all these overpays start actually affecting our ability to sign players we want I’m not gonna worry about them.

  15. Dan K.

    December 12, 2011 04:15 PM

    A couple of possibilities to sign to minor league deals that have similar (even slightly better) peripherals than Kendrick: Manny Parra and Jerome Williams.

    Assuming they’re non-tendered, of course.

  16. Jeff

    December 12, 2011 05:03 PM

    I’d be OK with instead trading Blanton for a bag of balls, though I don’t think any other teams would pick up his salary.

    I also have to wonder about the front office’s strategic judgment. If scrimping a million here and there is so critical, then why did they sign Papelbon for so much more than they offered Madson?

  17. jauer

    December 12, 2011 05:04 PM

    Am I the only one who thought the Phillies did KK a favor in 2011 by adding him to the NLDS roster, since he wasn’t around for 2008 or 2009? What did he add to the roster that Worley and/or Blanton wouldn’t have contributed?

    Three long relievers in a 5-game series with the best starting rotation of all-time isn’t superfluous; it’s nearly criminal when you’re carrying Martinez, Gload, and Schneider as your three reserve LHBs over Domonic Brown.

  18. hk

    December 12, 2011 05:16 PM

    jauer,

    While I agree that their roster decision making was nearly criminal, it seemed to me that their motivation was more like they wanted to punish Dom than that they wanted to do Kendrick a favor. I think Dom got one plate appearance – being passed over to start a few games and to PH by Bowker and Moss among others – after he was called up following the end of Lehigh Valley’s season. And, if I remember correctly, the plate appearance came only because they ran out of PH’s in that particular game.

  19. Dan K.

    December 12, 2011 05:32 PM

    I jinxed it, Williams was signed to a 1 year deal. Just waiting for Parra to get signed.

  20. jauer

    December 12, 2011 09:24 PM

    I do agree that anti-Dom played a part, but I remember the stories from 08 and 09 where KK was disappointed and the FO expressed the difficulty of sending him to the fall leagues during 2008 and demoting him in 09 (he made the LDS roster in 09 but not the next two rounds).

    I would say I’d be surprised if the motivation were as high as anti-Brown 80%/pro-KK 20, but the treatment of brown thus far is far more surprising than his missing the playoff roster, that it’s not surprising at all.

  21. BobSmith

    December 14, 2011 05:03 PM

    Bill – You make a valid point about KK but are you seriously going to include data from 2007 and 2008 in your sample to evaluate & compare KK & Bush?

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