Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another Kennedy Comes to Washington

Nope, it's not Joe, not Caroline, not Maria or Mark Shriver, and he sure as shooting isn't a senator from the Great "we got our health care, screw the rest of y'all" Commonwealth of Red Sox Nation.

It's Adam Kennedy! Kennedy's a 34-year-old second-baseman who played last year with Oakland after a two-year injury-plagued stint in St. Louis. He's signed for one year and $1.5 million with a $2 million team option for 2011. He doesn't strike out much, but he also doesn't have much power, and doesn't walk. He once played a pretty good second base, but the Nationals should expect below-average or worse. Kind of Cristian Guzman without the switch-hitting or 6-year, $32 million price tag.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
  • Regardless of what you think of Guzman and Desmond, the Nationals needed another middle infielder. There's at least an 80% chance that one of the two of them would miss some extended time at some point, and you can't go into a major league season with Eric Bruntlett as your plan B. And there's probably a 15% chance that both of them would go down, either due to injury or poor performance. And in that case the middle infield would be what? A rotation of Bruntlett, Willie Harris, and Alberto Gonzalez, I guess. That's what 105 losses looks like.
  • This is a good value signing. The Fangraphs system (which isn't gospel, but is a solid benchmark) estimated Kennedy's value in 2009 at 1.7 wins above replacement and $7.2 million last season, and so even with a normal decline in productivity for his age, he should provide $1.5 million or more, barring injury.
  • One key question is what this means for Ian Desmond. I don't think it's good for his development to just throw him into the deep end without a life jacket. But I also don't want him blocked. It's not the end of the world if Desmond starts the season in AAA. But unless the Nationals shock everyone and are playing above-.500 ball behind break-out seasons by Guzman and Kennedy, he needs to be playing every day at shortstop by June 1.
  • Neither Kennedy nor Guzman will ever be compared to Cal Ripken in terms of durability. So even if the team wanted to keep Desmond out of the lineup all year (and there's no reason to think they do), that probably wouldn't happen.
  • Going into the off-season Mike Rizzo said his goal was to upgrade the middle-infield defense. That was a really good idea, given the stock-piling of groundballers he's done and the importance of developing young pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler, Drew Storen, Aaron Thompson, etc., etc. However, while the organizational depth chart is better than it was in September, he's failed on the goal of upgrading the defense. Guzman will still be Guzman (minus whatever effect age has), and Kennedy hasn't been an above-average second baseman since he left Orange County.
  • The most important thing for Desmond's development isn't really the fielding. Seems pretty clear that he is what he is--he'll make to many errors, but he'll make up those error runs and maybe more with above-average range and the cannon arm. The question is whether the bat will play at higher levels. His power emerged as a major tool last season, and if his strike-zone discipline can develop against big league pitching, he could become a consistent near-all star player with 20+ homers and average on-base skills to go with average defense at a premium fielding position--think Jhonny Peralta or Yunel Escobar, but with enough athleticism to keep doing it into his 30s. There's a lot of value in a guy like that, but to get there, he needs at least 450 PAs this year.
  • I hate hate hate the idea of making Desmond a super-utility guy this year. Look, if he fails to make the jump I describe above, and the best you can get from him is a Willie Harris-type, fine. So be it. There's value in that too. But to make him learn a new position (or three) at the same time that he's trying to learn how to keep himself out of pitchers' counts against major league arms--well, how'd that work with Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes?
  • Orlando Hudson is better than Adam Kennedy, but not that much better. And with the amount of money you'd have sunk into Hudson and Guzman, it would be hard NOT to block Desmond. Not only am I not sad about losing Hudson, this is actually the better move for the Nationals. Now if they'd only used some of that money to go out and gotten another starting pitcher like Aroldis Chapman, Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, Erik Bedard, Ben Sheets...


Rob B said...

I like it. Great point about the value of the signing.
It's not like our 2B would be the difference between a sub-.500 year and a playoff run.

JayB said...

Hudson was a Type A but was not tendered a contract so he does NOT cost Twins (or Nats) a draft pick......sorry for the nit pick.

Steven said...

You're right. My bad, and it's an important point. Corrected in the post.

Dan said...

I think Kennedy is a perfect low-cost, low-risk signing. The best you can say about him is "he doesn't suck", which is not bad. His best case scenario is last year, is worst case scenario is a .250/.320/.530 line, which would be fine.

Mr. Mustache said...

LOVE the move and I agree with you on almost everything Steven.

I don't agree with you that "Kennedy hasn't been an above-average second baseman since he left Orange County." I think you're completely skimming over 2008 where he registered a 9.7 RngR and 21.8 UZR/150 with St. Louis. While this was only over 635 innings, it falls in line with his numbers in '03, '04 and '05. His poor defensive numbers in '09 look completely off from his historic ones. These can be easily explained by OAK asking him to spend a majority of his time at a position he had never played (3B). His discomfort at the position is further evidenced by his batting splits last year. .300/.367/.468 as 2B. .283/.338/.378 as 3B.

Your statement knocking Kennedy's lack of defense since leaving Orange County (2005) is even more incomplete or inaccurate when you consider that it is Hudson and not Kennedy who has failed to produce a UZR/150 above 0.5 since 2005.

One point you didn't make was that Kennedy fits even better than ODawg bc his splits are so drastic. In '09 he hit .307/.364/.438 against RHP. Over the last 3 years he's hit .281/.335/.389 vs. RHP and .230/.285/.301 vs. LHP. Hopefully, Desmond is playing SS full-time somewhere next year and if he is, one of our primary backups at 2B will be Alberto Gonzalez. The General favors LHP to the tune of .397/.429/.603 Last year and .337/.380/.480 Last 3 years.

Screams platoon and a pretty good one.

Will said...

If Desmond could be a Willie Harris-type player, I'd be absolutely thrilled. If Harris started in LF last year getting about 600 PA, he'd have been worth 3.8 WAR. No joke.
~6.5 batting runs, 19.3 fielding runs, 20 replacement, -7.5 positional = 38.3 RAR

Harris is terribly underrated. He'd have been better than Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham COMBINED!!!

I rue the day the Mariners snag Harris from us for nothing. We have a fantastic player right under our noses, but no one on the Nationals is intelligent enough to realize it.

Souldrummer said...

Love the move and more proof that we have a functional organization. Hopefully they were frugal with 2B because they have competition in that position now. Give me a starting pitcher so that the Balesters of the world can be competing for bullpen slots and not starting slots and i'll be a ok with our progress to 70+ wins

von_bluff said...

I'm actually happy with the value signing of Adam Kennedy. Maybe not as good as O-Dog but surely it's not a 3+ million dollar gap.

I wonder if Ian Desmond can play or be groomed for 2B. It would seem that the position change would lower his throwing errors and open a slot for Espinosa at SS in 2011.

Given the youth and range of those two players, nightly appearances on Web Gems could become the norm.

Steven said...

Yep, long-term that's the idea--Espinosa and Desmond up the middle. We'll see. Probably would be the other way around though--Desmond at SS.

Rich said...


I always check out your links and I was wondering why you linked to Brian Duensing at Baseball musings... Is there a rumor about him? or am I over analyzing?


Anonymous said...

So you're moving from the now-discredited global warming crisis to the fake health-care crisis?

Seriously, the cheap Lerners should have shelled out a couple million more for Hudson. Besides being more entertaining to watch play, Hudson is at least a team guy. Kennedy was cut by the Cardinals because they couldn't find any takers. He whined about LaRussa not giving him playing time. If he's not playing well and is on the bench, look for problems.

Brian said...

@Rich - Duensing was the Twins compensation pick for the Nationals signing Guzman

(and Daniel Carte was the Rockies pick for the Castilla signing)

Steven said...

So you're moving from the now-discredited global warming crisis to the fake health-care crisis?

Discredited how? By a couple snowstorms? Don't make me do the sample size lecture again. It is so very tedious.

Anonymous said...

No - I was referring to ClimateGate, the politicized IPCC, and more holes in the AGW arguments coming out every day in the European media.

Steven said...

OK--so let the record show that Mr. Anonymous commenter on the FJB blog doesn't believe global warming exists.

Can we talk about baseball now?