Jason Kendall guaranteed $4.25 million by Brewers

Updated: November 28, 2007, 5:40 PM ET
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- Jason Kendall nervously played with his name card, eager to talk about his new role with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The three-time All-Star was so impatient that general manager Doug Melvin abruptly interrupted him when Kendall began his opening statement Wednesday.

There was the minor detail that Kendall hadn't actually put on a Brewers uniform yet.

"Here, here, let me give you this first," Melvin said.

Kendall slipped on No. 18, never mind that it belongs to outfielder Gabe Gross, and immediately said he thinks he can return to the postseason for the third straight year.

"It was definitely an easy decision. I want to win. I spent nine years being out of a pennant race in July," said Kendall, an All-Star on losing teams in Pittsburgh before going to the playoffs with the Oakland Athletics in 2006 and Chicago Cubs this year.

But the 12-year veteran's first free-agency experience was more bargain than blockbuster.

Kendall finished a $60 million, six-year extension he signed in Pittsburgh in 2000 with a resounding thud after making $13 million this season.

On Wednesday, he finalized a one-year contract that guarantees him $4.25 million with the Brewers, who went 83-79 and were in the postseason race until the final week.

Performance bonuses could tack on an additional $1 million if he makes at least 130 starts, and his contract includes a guaranteed option for 2009 if he starts 110 games.

That shouldn't be much of a problem for Kendall, who has appeared in at least 130 games in 11 of his 12 seasons, including the last eight.

Kendall is fourth among active catchers with 1,625 appearances at the position, trailing only Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Piazza and Brad Ausmus.

"I feel just as good now body-wise as I did when I was 21," Kendall said. "I think I've learned how to take care of myself throughout the years."

But with Kendall's durability comes questions of his declining offensive and defensive skills.

Part of the reason Kendall failed to cash in was he hit .226 with 33 RBIs in 80 games with Oakland before being traded in July to the Cubs. There, he batted .270 with 19 RBIs in 57 games, still well below his .297 career average.

"I had a bad year last year," Kendall said. "I'm ready to bounce back and I have a lot to prove to myself, not so much anybody else. I know I can. I don't think 33 is old."

Kendall will replace switch-hitting Johnny Estrada, traded to the New York Mets for reliever Guillermo Mota last week. Estrada hit .278 with 10 homers and 54 RBIs for the Brewers this year, but never meshed in the clubhouse and threw out only six of 79 would-be base stealers.

Kendall's marks weren't much better. He ranked 26th by throwing out 13 of 124 runners (10.5 percent), including just two of 54 in Chicago.

The only catchers with lower marks were Michael Barrett (10 percent), Estrada (7.6 percent) and Josh Bard (6.2 percent).

Kendall said his father, former major league catcher Fred Kendall, has helped break down his recent deficiencies this offseason.

"We've definitely talked about it," Kendall said. "My big thing with that whole situation is not trying to rush, trying to do too much. If you don't have a chance, eat it."

Melvin also chalked it up partly to Oakland's lack of holding runners. Before heading to Oakland in 2005, Kendall threw out runners at a 26.3 percent clip.

Despite the numbers, the Brewers think Kendall's true value will come in the way he handles a pitching staff coping with the recent loss of All-Star closer Francisco Cordero in free agency.

Melvin said it helped to get an unsolicited phone call from former Oakland bullpen coach Brad Fischer.

"He called me out of the blue when he saw we were talking about Jason and just gave me high praise about how he'll contribute on our ballclub and how Oakland's pitching staff ... really missed him," Melvin said.

Oakland's staff had a 3.71 ERA until Kendall was traded in the middle of July. Down the stretch, the A's went 32-38 with a 5.04 ERA.

Kendall has more ties with management than the current batch of Brewers. He was scouted in 1992 by Jack Zduriencik and drafted by Ted Simmons, then Pittsburgh's general manager.

Zduriencik is the Brewers' director of scouting and Simmons is the new Brewers bench coach.

"Jack and Ted both were there when I was a young kid," Kendall said.

Kendall also will get the bonus of dealing with Simmons daily. Simmons was an eight-time All-Star at catcher, and Brewers manager Ned Yost also manned the position.

"Every bit of advice, anything little can help," Kendall said. "Catchers are a lot smarter."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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