Should the Phillies Upgrade Howie Kendrick?

When the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick in November, everyone knew what the plan was: deal him at the trade deadline for something, anything really. In a lot of ways, the deal is reminiscent of the 2015 acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies gave up very little of value to the franchise to potentially get more value back a couple months down the road. Both Hellickson and Kendrick were coming off down years at the time and had a clear place to play for the Phillies, at least for the first half of the season.

With Hellickson, it seemed entirely likely that the Phillies would be abundantly ready to move on after half a season. With Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff already in the rotation and Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez, and, generously, Mark Appel all potential contributors by midseason, it was easy to envision a world in which Hellickson’s season-long presence would hold the rebuild back. Obviously, due to injuries to Eflin and Nola, that scenario didn’t materialize, but it was reasonable to assume his replacement would come internally.

With Kendrick, that scenario isn’t quite as clear. Currently, the only internal lock to be a major-league caliber starter in the outfield is Odubel Herrera. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn both come with some combination of injury and performance-based concerns about their long-term viability in the outfield. Even with Kendrick in the fold, both should get chances to play from the outset.

After that, they have Nick Williams set to repeat at AAA after a tumultuous season in which not only his strikeouts and plate approach remained questions, but he clashed with manager Dave Brundage over a perceived lack of hustle and saw more time on the bench than a prospect of his ilk typically does. Maybe Dusty Wathan–the new man in charge in Lehigh Valley–will be able to create an environment for Williams to thrive. Or maybe he won’t. Beyond Williams, there’s no one sniffing the majors worth banking on at this point.

That leaves a somewhat likely case where the Phillies don’t have a palatable replacement for Kendrick if and when the time comes to trade him at the deadline. He only has one more year remaining on his deal and, at 33-years old, is unlikely to play his way into being a qualifying offer candidate. That means that the Phillies won’t be able to play the game of chicken they did at the deadline with Hellickson. They’ll have to trade him for whatever they can get or keep him an get nothing. In other words, they’re going to trade him, and if two of Altherr, Quinn, Williams, and Tyler Goeddel aren’t playable major leaguers by mid-season, you’re looking at another August and September of a Jimmy Paredes type. No one wants that.

So, the Phillies should get that contingency plan in order now. They won’t and shouldn’t want to give up the draft pick required to sign Jose Bautista–presuming he’d sign with a non-contender anyway–but Michael Saunders would be a good alternative. After two injury-plagued seasons, Saunders played a full season and made his first All-Star team for the Blue Jays last season, hitting .253/.338/.478 (117 wRC+)with a career-best 24 home runs. Of course, that came with crazy mid-season splits, hitting 46 percent better than league average before the All-Star break and 31 percent worse after. Nevertheless, he’s entering his age-30 season, has been roughly league-average or better when healthy, and does not require the Phillies to surrender a draft pick to sign.

The elephant in the room then would be Howie Kendrick, who would be out of a starting role with Saunders, Herrera, and either Quinn or Altherr in the outfield. However, Kendrick played (in order of frequency) left field, second base, third base, and first base for the Dodgers last season. If the Phillies play him as a super-utility guy at those positions, they could conceivably get him three-to-four starts each week. That would be enough both to give him at bats to build any trade value and display him as a versatile player well-suited for a spot on a playoff roster somewhere else.

Further, there’s no reason to assume Saunders’ presence would block Quinn, Altherr, or Williams if they’re ready for a full-time role by mid-season. If Saunders remains healthy and plays at the level he has when healthy throughout his career, he could also be flipped at the deadline to make room.

Unlike this time last offseason, the Phillies have a full roster that looks suspiciously like a major league baseball team. That alone, however, doesn’t prevent them from getting creative and adding more to the mix, especially if it doesn’t interfere with the arc of their rebuild.

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8 comments

  1. Lucas

    January 03, 2017 04:18 PM

    The problem with Saunders is that he’s always hurt or suddenly sucks or something is the matter with him. Plus he has those bad work habits crits following him around since Seattle. Howie is the definition of a hard working Pro – his pregame prep is legendary. He had an absolutely horrendous start to last year that skews his overall numbers. So long as Howie plays close to his par, he’s a much more tradeable asset than Saunders – teams don’t even want guys like Saunders around during a pennant race much less trade for him.

  2. Mike Fassano

    January 03, 2017 04:42 PM

    -
    -11

    Trade Galvis and Hernandez today. Start the season with Crawford and Kendrick. Trade Kendrick at the deadline and bring up Kingery. Let Altherr, Quinn, Williams, and Goeddel fight it out for left and right field. Make Velasquez your closer or trade him; you can’t have a starter who needs 100 pitches to get through the 5th inning. Let the kids play and grow together.

  3. Eddie

    January 03, 2017 04:49 PM

    Two points you missed from your analysis:

    1) The small one is leaving out Cozens and Pullin out of midyear possibilities. I expect both to regress from last year, but if they don’t, they’re in the conversation.

    2) The big one is that the 40-man roster is full.

    Signing Saunders (or anyone else) would require trading/releasing away someone else, and pretty much all the obvious candidates are young guys that have at least some kind of upside — e.g. Severino Gonzalez might be the best candidate, and I think he has a good shot to be a solid middle reliever. Or maybe Adam Morgan, who is your only lefty.

    This is why I never really liked the Kendrick acquisition. Yes, it was nice that he essentially arrived for free (which IMO is why they jumped on it) but the roster crunch is such that the team was very likely not going to be able to bring in a second veteran bat, and the odds of Kendrick ever being flipped for real value are slim.

    IMHO the better fit would have been Saunders (assuming he’d take a short-term deal) , or trading a lesser prospect or two to the Mets for the last year of either Bruce or Granderson’s contract. Any of those LH would have slotted into the #4 hole and taken pressure off Franco and Joseph in the middle of the order, and all have more trade value than Kendrick will.

  4. Bob

    January 03, 2017 04:52 PM

    I love the idea of a super-utility player. I think that it decreases production when players play six days a week in the summer heat. I think that regular days off would benefit all players both mentally and physically. I have never understood why teams don’t employ a super-utility guy who plays five days a week at different positions that would give a different regular off at least once a week. The baseball season is long and grueling particularly with travel. I can see giving guys an extra day off each week as being very beneficial.

    • Eddie

      January 03, 2017 09:00 PM

      “I have never understood why teams don’t employ a super-utility guy who plays five days a week at different positions that would give a different regular off at least once a week.”

      This is about like asking why NFL teams don’t all keep three good QBs on the roster. It’s not like they don’t want to.

      Having a ninth guy that can play multiple positions competently while still hitting as well as a regular is a luxury only very lucky managers get. Most utility guys hit like Eric Bruntlett or Michael Martinez. There is a reason they don’t start.

  5. Andrew R.

    January 03, 2017 06:28 PM

    I hated the idea of Brandon Moss. But honestly, he makes a ton of sense. Lefty-platoon bat that can bounce between left field and some first base. He’s gonna get ya 20-25 homers and between Kendrick being a somewhat super-sub, and Moss inky in to face righties, I think it’s very possible to get everybody productive at bats.

    And I’m pretty sure Moss will play on a one-year.

  6. Romus

    January 03, 2017 07:34 PM

    Understand Ken Rosenthal thinks Phillies are showing interest in Jose Bautista.
    That further complicates things if he is signed.

    • david

      January 04, 2017 12:13 AM

      Per the Bautista possibility (from a comment that I posted here on CA on 12/19):

      “Good question Romus. The Bautista idea is based on a few assumptions:

      – The Phillies will require significant advancement by a number of their young players (and potentially meaningful contributions from one or more prospects as well) to even remotely approach a pythag of .500

      – a number of the Phillies young players lack a well developed approach at the plate, an appropriate degree of plate discipline, and/or sufficient pitch recognition capability. I seem to recall a quote from earlier in the year by Tommy Joseph – whom I do like and have real hopes for – that he wasn’t concerned about not getting many walks and that he was focussed on trying to drive the ball (not quite on par with the Amaro quote about “production”, but it betrays a similar lack of emphasis on selectivity at the plate and a failure to understand how a more disciplined approach feeds into what TJ and everyone would like to see from him and from the team).

      – Bautista is still world-class re approach and selectivity, and the young players could use a real world example in addition to words and guidance from Matt Stairs, Michael Jack, etc.

      – Bautista is ‘affordable’ (whatever that means to a larger market team and specifically to the Phillies these days) and may be ‘getable’ for the Phils on a short term deal (e.g. 2 years with a team option for a third) given how the FA market is developing (or rather ‘not developing’) for him at this point

      – Bautista is a very good positive regression (“bounceback”) candidate who, with a good first half (or 12 or 18 months) could bring significant value back to the Phils at the July deadline without undermining their strong financial position for upcoming FA classes (and specifically 2018 and beyond)

      – Assuming such positive regression, the value that Bautista could bring back in trade at the July deadline (either 2017 or 2018) likely dwarfs the prospect value of the lost pick

      – Bautista would add to the energy around this young team, and would strengthen ticket sales for what in 2017 is pretty certain to be another challenging year in the W-L column.

      – Bautista’s defense is clearly a liability, but this signing wouldn’t be about dWAR. It would instead be about fostering a better approach at the plate team-wide, postioning the Phils for another trade and talent influx, and putting fans back in seats near term and helping to drive some marginal revenue.

      Where would he play? What about the logjam on the 40 man? I’m not sure I have the answer right now (though Matt K. may still have a few ideas that will free up a bit of space). If Cesar stays, then HK is slated for an outfield spot, which certainly complicates the playing time issue. They’d clearly like to get AA and possibly Quinn some real time to see what they can do (though, if they moved Bautista this year before the deadline, that could still leave a few months of everyday at bats for whichever of them is emerging at that point).”

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