Kyle Kendrick and Plan B

Back in December, when the Phillies were still deciding on their future with right-hander Kyle Kendrick, I suggested that they cut their ties with the veteran swingman. Pitchers like Kendrick, I argued, are plentiful in the world of baseball, so paying upwards of $3 million per season to keep him around just wasn’t worth it. The Phillies initially avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $3.585 million salary for 2011, but in February, they announced they had signed Kendrick to a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

We have gone over Kendrick’s abilities ad nauseam here, so I won’t waste your time going over those. For passers-by, here some some relevant links:

  • Phillies Must Make Tough Choice Regarding Kyle Kendrick [Link]
  • Phillies Sign Kyle Kendrick for $3.585 Million [Link]
  • Kyle Kendrick Receives 2 year, $7.5 Million Extension [Link]
  • Kitschy Kyle Kendrick [Link]

As a result of Cliff Lee‘s placement on the disabled list recently, Kendrick moved into the starting rotation, making his first start of the 2012 season last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was absolutely terrible over three innings of work, allowing 11 hits, including a home run to Justin Upton and four doubles, and a total of seven runs. In true KK fashion, he walked one and struck out one out of 21 total batters faced.

Kendrick is certainly not nearly as bad as he looked last night, but in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, there are four pitchers who reasonably could have been called upon to make a spot start or two in Lee’s absence: journeymen Dave Bush and Scott Elarton, left-hander Pat Misch, and right-hander Austin Hyatt (who, unlike Kendrick, is getting Triple-A experience before Major League experience). Their existence and placement in the Phillies’ system is entirely independent of Kendrick’s, so the Phillies would have had just as much of a contingency plan if they had non-tendered Kendrick as opposed to the route they chose.

Kendrick is not, in any respect, noticeably better than any of those four options. What Kendrick has is lore: he was the Phillies’ unsung hero in the 2007 season. As Matt Swartz pointed out on Twitter, the Phillies have been paying for that fluky performance ever since:

Kendrick also gets too much credit for his versatility — his ability and willingness to bounce between the bullpen and starting rotation at a moment’s notice. While that is nice, it has no practical benefit. The Phillies still had to make a roster move (recalling Joe Savery) in response, so while it appears that Kendrick eats two roster spots for the price of one, he is just a mediocre pitcher who really doesn’t fit anywhere but in a Triple-A rotation as an innings-eater.

It just as easily could have been Bush or Hyatt getting taken for seven runs in three innings last night, but they wouldn’t have been on the books for $7.5 million over two years while doing so. Kendrick’s performance last night was just a painful reminder of the superfluous way GM Ruben Amaro has doled out money since taking over for Pat Gillick after the 2008 season. From needlessly signing Ryan Howard to a five-year contract extension in 2010, giving bench bat Laynce Nix, reliever Danys Baez, and catcher Brian Schneider two guaranteed years, and awarding closer Jonathan Papelbon the largest contract ever for a relief pitcher, the Phillies have been terribly inefficient and backwards-thinking. When you run a payroll in excess of $170 million, money can cover up a lot of mistakes, but it won’t be the case as this roster continues to age and key pieces — such as Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino — have the potential to change their addresses.

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