It was a mixed bag sort of offseason for Howie Kendrick, who managed to end up in a location he desired, even if the financial repercussions were a bit messy.
Kendrick enjoyed his first year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, but with his first real chance to explore free agency, Kendrick went the prospecting route instead of taking the Dodgers’ one-year, $15.8 qualifying offer.
In a turn of events that left Kendrick somewhat exasperated, and the Dodgers with the opportune chance to get a discount on a player who fit their needs, a two-year, $20 million deal was agreed upon between the two parties last weekend.
“You know, at the end of the season I was hoping that I would return to L.A.,” Kendrick said via conference call Friday. “I think one of the biggest things was they knew I was probably not going to accept the qualifying offer. I was really optimistic about the market.
“I’m very happy to be back in L.A., though, because I really enjoyed my time here last year and had a lot of fun with the guys. We came up short, but I definitely enjoyed playing in the atmosphere, the team, the front office, everybody was great.”
Regardless of how his free agency turned out, Kendrick knows he still will get a small fortune to play for a team he likes, a turn of events that is thoroughly pleasing even if his pay scale isn’t exactly even with his skill set. Dodger Stadium is one of the places Kendrick flourishes and he will get two more years to exploit whatever it is that suits him so well.
Kendrick’s .316 career batting average at Dodger Stadium in 79 games, and his .469 slugging percentage, is a testament to how much he likes hitting in his home ballpark. It is dwarfed only by his .372 batting average and .488 slugging percentage in 33 games at Fenway Park in Boston.
“Maybe it’s the racket, all the noise going on, just the atmosphere,” Kendrick said of his success in some of the major league’s most iconic ballparks. “Most of those stadiums, the fans are usually pretty in-tune with the game. They're usually heckling you here and there.
“I think it’s just the atmosphere. You’re playing really good teams and you come up to the page and all you can hear is a bunch of people either yelling at you or cheering for you. In my case, last year I had everybody cheering for me and it’s just a good feeling to be in those intense games.”
The 32-year old also pointed out his success at Yankee Stadium, where he has batted .409 with a .523 slugging percentage, although he has played just 11 games there.
“For some reason I’m able to step up in those games and just play well,” he said. “I think it’s just a testament to consistency. I really don’t try to focus anymore, or play any different when I come play those teams, it just happens that I play well against those guys.”
Consistency has been Kendrick’s calling card during his 10-year career. He is a .293 career hitter with a .423 slugging percentage and when averaging out his numbers over a 162-game schedule, he has been good for 12 home runs and 75 RBIs per year, not to mention 37 doubles and 181 hits.
So why did free agency go so wrong (for Kendrick, not the Dodgers)?
The veteran was no doubt hurt by the compensation pick that was attached to his potential signing after the Dodgers made their qualifying offer. Any team that wanted to sign Kendrick had to relinquish a draft pick to the Dodgers.
It was a penalty that interested parties just couldn’t justify. Ben Zobrist didn’t have a pick attached and got four years and $56 million from the Chicago Cubs. Kendrick didn’t come close to getting half that. Argue which player is more valuable all you want, but in no on-field scenario is Kendrick half the player that Zobrist is.
“You know what, I think the system, I don’t think it was ever designed to work the way it does,” Kendrick said. “Nobody really probably thought about it in that sense. But I feel that it hurt a lot of guys this offseason, not just me but other guys, too. You’re asking (teams) to make a choice between present talent and future talent and I think you should be able to have both.”
Sure the Dodgers would have liked to stockpile another draft pick, but the 2016 team became much stronger, especially offensively, the day Kendrick re-signed.
“I’m so excited to have him back,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said at Dodgers Fan Fest last weekend. “He’s one of my favorite teammates of all time and just a great guy to have in the clubhouse, a great professional player and a great performer on the field as well. I think it was great to hear he signed back with us, especially for two years. He just makes our team that much better, which is great.”
Maybe Kendrick’s wallet isn’t as thick as some might have expected, but now that the free-agent process is complete, he has rearranged all of the pieces inside that mixed bag that was his winter. He knows what is important moving forward.
“The core of the team is still there and then you add some new pieces in … there are a bunch of good guys on this team,” Kendrick said. “It’s just finding that fine-tuned area where everybody gets on the same page. As long as we play the game well when we get on the field and do the fundamentals, I think we won’t have any problem winning ballgames.”