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Deep Sea Fishing: Howie Kendrick

The Marlins desperately need a proven bat like Kendrick’s. His 2019 playoff heroics and defensive versatility make the fit even better.

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Time to spend Bruce Sherman’s and Derek Jeter’s money! Entering the third year under new Marlins ownership, fans expect to see significant improvement at the major league level. Some of that improvement will surely come from within, but prospects—as they say—will break your heart. Successful MLB rebuilds make sure to surround their young cores with veterans who can bring credibility and reliable production. Free agent additions figure to be critically important to keeping the Fish on track.

To date, the largest investment that the Sherman/Jeter Marlins have made in any free agent was $5.25 million for Cuban outfielder Víctor Víctor Mesa. “Deep Sea Fishing” is a series of profiles on established, available players—all of them projected to cost more than Víctor Víctor—who should be seriously considered by the front office.

2019 team(s): Nationals

2019 salary: $4 million

2020 season age: 36

Marlins connection? THE MARLINS ARE INTERESTED IN HOWIE KENDRICK THIS IS NOT A DRILL (Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic reports).

Ghiroli notes that Kendrick is “from Florida,” but he was born and raised in the Jacksonville metropolitan area. That’s as close to Atlanta as it is to Miami, so he isn’t a candidate to accept a hometown discount.

Why the Marlins should want him

After back-to-back dreadful seasons for the Marlins offense, wouldn’t it be nice to have a high-quality veteran bat? That’s Howie Kendrick’s music. He posted an outstanding .344/.395/.572 slash line for the 2019 Nationals, which translates to a 146 wRC+ (100 is league average). To put that in perspective, Giancarlo Stanton owns a 142 wRC+ in his major league career.

Baseball Savant

Kendrick’s batted ball data suggests that was no fluke. According to Statcast, he ranked in the 92nd percentile among MLB players in average exit velocity, 94th percentile in hard hit rate and 98th percentile in expected weighted on-base average (wxOBA).

During the first decade of his major league career, Kendrick spent the vast majority of his defensive appearances at second base. But he has demonstrated his versatility in recent seasons with hundreds of innings each at first, second, third and left field. That would allow the Marlins to reap the benefits from his bat without “blocking” young players who are trying to get comfortable at specific positions.

On a similar note, coming off the bench doesn’t diminish Kendrick’s production. In 68 plate appearances as a non-starter in 2019, he had an otherworldly 1.278 OPS (career .900 OPS in those situations vs. .765 OPS as a starter). With active rosters expanding to 26 next season, teams figure to be more proactive about using pinch-hitters. Kendrick could have valuable insight for his teammates about the preparation and mindset required to handle that task.

After underachieving in most of his postseason runs with the Angels, Dodgers and Phillies, Kendrick bucked the narrative this October. He was named NLCS MVP and hit the game-winning home run for Washington in Game 7 of the World Series. Signing him on the heels of that would instantly bring the Marlins more credibility and marketability.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

A family man who has earned more than $65 million on the field, Kendrick is seeking a short-term free agent deal—perhaps only one guaranteed year—before evaluating whether he wants to keep playing. Particularly for the Marlins who have so few existing payroll commitments, he would be low risk/high reward.

Why the Marlins might not get him

Kendrick ruptured his right Achilles tendon in May 2018 while patrolling left field and hasn’t played out there at all since then. So he’s likely to be an infield-only option for the Marlins, somewhat restricting his versatility. The Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating stats regard him as a slightly below-average defender, and the eye test is even more discouraging (that’s why I advocate for Brock Holt instead). Another consequence of the injury: stolen bases and infield hits are no longer significant parts of his game. Investing in the 36-year-old is betting entirely on him continuing to mash the ball.

Speaking of age, Kendrick would really be defying the odds if he matched his 2019 excellence. Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz...those guys are outliers. MLB teams have generally been scaling back free agent splurging because history shows players to be extremely unreliable in their mid-30s and beyond.

The main objections from Kendrick’s perspective would have to do with the lack of competitiveness and relevance—he has never been immersed in a “rebuilding” environment for a full season. Brittany Ghiroli identified the Rays as expressing early interest in him. If the money being offered by both is similar, I highly doubt he’d choose the Fish.

Fish Stripes estimates a 25% chance of the Marlins signing Howie Kendrick this offseason.

Be sure to bookmark and check in frequently as the Deep Sea Fishing series continues...