As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Howie Kendrick, who as a part-time player in the regular season put up some of the best numbers of his career and then became a postseason legend.
PLAYER REVIEW: HOWIE KENDRICK
Age on opening day 2020: 36
How acquired: Signed as free agent, January 2018
MLB service time: 13 years, 91 days
2019 salary: $4 million
Contract status: Free agent
2019 stats: 121 G, 370 PA, 334 AB, 61 R, 115 H, 23 2B, 1 3B, 17 HR, 62 RBI, 2 SB, 1 CS, 27 BB, 49 SO, .344 AVG, .395 OBP, .572 SLG, .966 OPS, 142 OPS+, -1 DRS at 1B, 1 DRS at 2B, -2 DRS at 3B, 2.9 fWAR, 2.6 bWAR
2019 postseason stats: 17 G, 67 PA, 63 AB, 8 R, 18 H, 4 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 4 BB, 11 SO, .286 AVG, .328 OBP, .444 SLG, .773 OPS
Quotable: “Without all the mistakes and all the hardships and all the successes earlier in my career, none of this would be available. None of this would be possible without all that. I talk with Max (Scherzer) quite a bit, and we’re like: ‘Man, don’t you wish you could go back and be how you are now then?’ And he goes: ‘No, I wouldn’t change it. Because all those failures are helping you with the success now.’ I think that’s the way I look at it. All those failures - and even now, my failures - still help me be successful. You appreciate it even more. This is definitely truly special in a sense that I can appreciate where I came from to where I’m at now.” - Kendrick
2019 analysis: It’s easy to forget now, but Kendrick was a huge question mark entering the season. After missing most of 2018 with a ruptured Achilles tendon, he reported for spring training behind everyone else. Then he strained his hamstring and had to open the season on the injured list.
Kendrick was back in action by April 6, though, and he immediately had an impact, going 10-for-20 with three doubles and three homers. It quickly became clear he was one of the Nationals’ most potent bats, but manager Davey Martinez also knew he needed to make sure he didn’t run the veteran into the ground by playing him too much. So Kendrick wound up starting only 70 games, 35 of those at first base. He came off the bench extensively, though, and entered the postseason having made his case to be in the lineup as much as possible.
Martinez decided to roll the dice come October and put Kendrick in his lineup for 16 of the team’s 17 postseason games, nine of those at second base. The veteran more than rewarded the manager for his show of faith. Though he had a rough National League Division Series in the field, Kendrick delivered the first of his two critical October home runs when he launched a 10th inning grand slam off Joe Kelly in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. Then he hit .333 with four doubles and four RBIs to win NL Championship Series MVP honors. Then he delivered the go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series, forever cementing his place in Nationals lore.
2020 outlook: Kendrick admitted that had the Nats not given him a two-year deal prior to the 2018 season, he might well have been forced into retirement after he suffered his major injury. Instead he not only put together the best season of his career but reinforced the notion that he’s still got plenty more baseball left in him moving forward.
The question is whether the Nationals are going to be willing to bring him back and hope he can recapture the magic that defined this remarkable season. Kendrick is certainly amenable to it, but what can he be counted on to do at this stage of his career. He’ll turn 37 in July, and he has said he knows he’s not capable of being an everyday player anymore (at least not during the regular season, when days off are sparse and spread out).
Would the Nats take a chance and bring him back as part of a veteran first base combo with Ryan Zimmerman (assuming, of course, they also re-sign Zimmerman) or even view him as part of their plan at second base? How much are they willing to pay a part-time player? And if an American League club offers a better deal and an opportunity to serve as a designated hitter on a daily basis, would Kendrick have a tough time saying no?