November 11, 2016
The Phillies entered the offseason with a nearly empty payroll and the need for upgrades to their baseball-worst offense.
Manager Pete Mackanin said multiple times over the season’s last two months that he wanted to see his club add a veteran bat or two over the winter.
But the front office was likely to move into the offseason a little more cautiously: general manager Matt Klentak said earlier this week that they had to be careful with who and where they added to the roster, because they didn’t want to block the progress of the young players already on the roster or the prospects on the way from a rich minor league system.
The Phillies managed to find that balance on Friday afternoon when they completed yet another trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They acquired veteran infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick from Los Angeles in exchange for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney.
"There may not be a more professional hitter than Howie Kendrick," Klentak said of the 33-year-old, career .293 hitter. "He’s the definition of a professional hitter. He’s been steady his entire career. He’s one of the hardest working guys in the league and he can hit anywhere in the lineup and be productive. ... I think Howie is going to have a legitimate impact on our young group."
Kendrick has just one year and $10 million remaining on his contract. After nine years as the regular second baseman for the Los Angeles Angels, Kendrick started 79 of his 117 games with the Dodgers in left field, as former Phillies All-Star Chase Utley manned second.
Kendrick, a right-handed hitter with a .293/.333/.423 slash line in 11 major league seasons, is likely to play left field for the Phillies.
"With the caveat that things could change as the offseason progresses, the plan right now is that Howie Kendrick will be our everyday left fielder," Klentak said. "But for a young roster, especially with us likely to add many young players to our 40-man roster, having a player on the 25-man who has the ability to play left field, first base, second base, third base, really does provide Pete with a lot of flexibility from a game to game basis. And that’s something just in terms of general roster management is going to be very important to us this year. And Howie Kendrick can play all of those positions. The versatility that the brings to our team is a huge benefit."
Kendrick’s versatility is important in 2017.
With Gold Glove finalist Freddy Galvis at shortstop and top prospects J.P. Crawford (a shortstop and the team's top prospect) and Scott Kingery (a rising second baseman in the farm system) not too far from big leagues, the team could look to trade Cesar Hernandez. CSNPhilly.com reported earlier on Friday that Hernandez was a “hot name” in trade talks.
Take it with a grain of salt, but Klentak said Friday the team was "not looking to trade Hernandez."
"Cesar Hernandez just had a really good year and an even better second half," Klentak said. "We are not looking to trade Cesar Hernandez. The fact that Howie Kendrick can play second or first or third is a benefit to us, just in terms of roster flexibility, if a player needs a day off or if somebody gets injured. The flexibility component is big for us, but that position does not make it any more likely or unlikely that we would trade one of our young players."
If the team holds onto Hernandez, a switch-hitter, he’d stay at second, with the right-handed hitting Kendrick also available to play there. If Hernandez is traded, Kendrick can play second base (as could Galvis, when Crawford is promoted).
Klentak was asked about the importance of adding such versatility to his young roster at the General Managers Meetings this week in Phoenix.
"Pete loves versatile players, I love versatile players, I think the industry is showing how much the industry values that," he said. "That value, it just creates a more valuable roster. The short answer is yes, I’d love to add players who have the ability to move around the field. It makes Pete’s job easier and it makes my job easier. There’s a reason those players are not often out there on the free agent market and when they are they get paid. It’s a very unique and impressive skill set. So if we can do it, then we’ll try. But I’m realistic of what the market offers."
Kendrick, an American League All-Star in 2011, hit .295 with a .336 OBP and nine home runs in 117 games with the Dodgers last season. Earlier this week, the FoxSports.com reported that the Dodgers were looking to move the veteran, who wanted more regular playing time and identified the Phillies as a potential suitor.
Perhaps that's not surprising. The Kendrick trade is the eighth between the Phillies and Dodgers since July of 2012.
During that time, the Phillies have traded the likes of Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Joe Blanton, Michael Young, and Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers. Now it's Sweeney (who came to the Phillies in the Utley deal) and Ruf on the way to L.A.
"I’m happy for Darin that there’s a new opportunity for him," Klentak said. "Hopefully he’ll be able to turn the page and get a fresh start with the Dodgers."
If the Phillies had to begin playing games tomorrow (they don't, of course), here is one guess at the lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, RF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Howie Kendrick, LF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
But, again, the games do not begin tomorrow. And it's at least possible that Klentak finds a way to get Mackanin a second veteran bat this winter, and another on a short-term deal that won't prohibit the team from promoting prospects when they're deemed ready.
"That is still to be determined," Klentak said. "We will continue to have dialogue with agents and other teams to see what opportunities exist. If there’s an opportunity that fits what we’re trying to do we’ll likely explore it. And if not then we won’t, but I think our broader goal of making sure that we continue to do everything we can to improve the 2017 club remains. I would expect us to continue to pursue opportunities."