An Incremental Improvement

In a move that shows just how easy it is to improve the Phillies’ roster, Matt Klentak struck yet another trade in the early offseason. Howie Kendrick will bring his league average bat to Philadelphia, presumably to play a league average left field, and to run the bases in a somewhat league average manner. Heading to LA are the inexplicably divisive Darin Ruf and a confused Darnell Sweeney, who was reportedly last seen mumbling to himself, “No…the Dodgers traded me…to the Phillies.”

To briefly cover the departed, there are two points to make. One: Ruf was on the verge of being non-tendered by the Phillies, with rumors abound that he was brushing up on his Japanese. And two: Sweeney, at age 26, has now played two seasons at AAA, and is yet to crack the 100 wRC+ mark at the level. In other words, hardly a significant loss.

As to what the Phillies gained in this transaction, it’s beneficial to know where they were starting from. Observe, the 2016 WAR totals for the Phillies’ three outfield positions:

1. Left Field: -1.5 WAR
2. Center Field: 4.2 WAR
3. Right Field: -1.3 WAR

The current projections have Kendrick pegged for approximately 1.5 WAR per 600 PA. If Kendrick slots into left field and performs as the evil projection computers have commanded him to, this is an almost three win improvement as compared to last year’s production at the position.

That’s a bit misleading, however, as to the actual value the Phillies gained in this transaction. Prior to bringing Kendrick into the fold, their expected left field production – from the Cody Asche, Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn triumvirate – hovered somewhere around replacement level. Kendrick is still an improvement, just of the smaller, incremental variety.

An added value from Kendrick is that he also brings a little bit of versatility on defense. Although he’s slated as the regular left fielder, Kendrick can play all three of the non-shortstop infield positions. This gives the Phillies some room to be creative through the rest of the offseason, as well as some roster flexibility once the season begins. He can be shifted around if injuries arise, players underperform, or prospects – in a manner unfamiliar to the Phillies – force their hand.

It would be going way too far to call the move brilliant, and it certainly lacks in excitement level. But it is another shrewd move by Klentak, scavenging better teams for capable players on short term deals, all while giving up nothing of consequence.

And if you are a hater of pop-ups, then Kendrick is your man: he hasn’t hit one since 2013.

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