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...