In and of itself, the Kendrick acquisition isn’t a huge splash. Washington gives up 21-year-old lefty McKenzie Mills, a former 18th-round pick who was pitching in Single-A Hagerstown, in return for Kendrick, a 34-year-old utilityman who’s a second baseman by trade but can also play a little first, third and outfield. (By the way, it's a shame that the transaction wasn't a three-way deal involving Oakland minor-leaguer Ryan LaMarre, because then we would've had a Kendrick/LaMarre trade.)
The swap definitely gives the banged-up Nats some insurance if outfielder Jayson Werth takes (even) longer than expected to return from the broken bone in his left foot. And/or if center fielder Michael A. Taylor takes (even) longer than expected to return from his oblique injury. And/or if reserve outfielders Chris Heisey (groin) and Ryan Raburn (trapezius) can’t get whole soon. And/or if first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and second baseman Daniel Murphy happen to get bit by the injury bug or simply need days off. In getting Kendrick, Washington also gets a veteran bat off the bench, a lifetime .290 hitter who has been to the postseason six times in 11 big-league seasons. That’s not what really matters here.
The big takeaway from the Kendrick trade is that the Nats probably aren’t done shopping. With a 519-game lead in the National League East (give or take) and a stacked offense that leads the NL in scoring and is fresh off hitting 37 homers (give or take) against the Brewers on Wednesday, it would have been all too easy for GM Mike Rizzo to not add a position player. It would have been all too easy for him to sit back and wait, knowing that by October all the aforementioned invalids (plus shortstop Trea Turner, he of the broken wrist) should be good to go for the playoffs. That’s not how Rizzo rolls.
Remember, this is the same guy who watched his 2014 rotation, anchored by Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, lead the majors in ERA, and yet he still went out in the offseason and signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract when absolutely nobody in baseball thought the Nationals needed another starter. In other words, to the extent that ownership is willing to foot the bill, Rizzo is always looking to make one more move. Even when his team is 519 games up. (Or “just” 13 ½.)
Besides, it’s not like the Nats don’t have needs to address. Sure, the bullpen is improved following the recent trade that brought Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle over from Oakland, but it’s no secret that Washington could still use another pen piece. In related news, All-Star Padres reliever Brad Hand is still out there, as is Tigers closer Justin Wilson. Yes, the rotation ranks third in the majors in ERA and has Cy Young favorite Scherzer at the top, but with Strasburg on the DL and Joe Ross done for the season after Tommy John surgery, suddenly there are questions when it comes to the starting five. Answers are certainly out there in the form of Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander, just to name a few.
Whether Rizzo actually pulls the trigger and adds another pitcher or two between now and Monday at 4 p.m. ET remains to be seen. If the Howie Kendrick trade is any indication, he’s certainly locked and loaded.