This offseason, the Mets have quite a few positions that need to be addressed, and not a huge amount of payroll flexibility to address all of them. They will be hard-pressed to fill all their needs, so it could be beneficial for them to find some cheaper, under-the-radar signings who can check off multiple boxes at once.
Howie Kendrick is one of the few players on the market who fits that description. The 34-year-old is one of the most versatile players on the free agent market. He primarily plays second base and left field, but he’s also logged 660 career innings at first base, 132 innings at third base, and 22 innings in right field. The Mets could use some help at all of those positions.
Kendrick spent the first eight years of his career as the Angels’ starting second baseman, though they did very occasionally plug him in at first base or left field. But when he was with the Dodgers in 2016, he took on more of the utility role that he’s become accustomed to. While he still played mostly second base that year, he also amassed a career-high 675.1 innings in left field, and even dabbled at first base and third base.
Kendrick then signed with the Phillies for the 2017 season, and became primarily a left fielder for them. When he was traded to the Nationals midseason, though, they took advantage of his versatility more. He still played mostly left field in Washington due to injuries, but also saw time at second base, first base, and even got his first exposure to right field.
2017 was also Kendrick’s best offensive season to date. He batted .315/.368/.475 and posted a career-best 121 wRC+. It appeared the alleged juiced ball may have had an effect on Kendrick, as that .475 slugging percentage was also a career high. That said, that level of production isn’t what you should expect from him going forward. Those numbers came in the small sample size of just 91 games and 334 plate appearances, and were the result of a career-high .378 BABIP.
And that’s basically Kendrick’s game: he derives most of his value through BABIP and baserunning. He has a career walk rate of only 5.4 percent and a career slugging percentage of .421, so his batting average and speed drive most of his value. And while that can be a dangerous profile, his performance has never fluctuated much; he’s posted a wRC+ below 100 in only one of his last eight seasons. And even at the age of 34, Kendrick showed no signs of decline last year, and was actually on a pace to steal the most bases of his career.
Given that he’s not a particularly great hitter or a stout defender at any position, Kendrick isn’t a starting-caliber player anymore. But what he does bring to the table makes him a very valuable part-time player who can be plugged in at almost any position. He’s not likely to command much on the free agent market, either. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs predicted Kendrick would only net a two-year deal for $10 million, while MLB Trade Rumors estimated a two-year, $12 million deal.
If the Mets are interested in Kendrick, they shouldn’t view him as a full-time starter at any position. They could utilize him similarly to how the Dodgers and Nationals did, using him in reserve and moving him around when injury strikes. And with the sheer amount of injury risk still embedded across the entire team, getting a versatile reserve player like Kendrick could turn out to be an important move for the Mets this offseason. As we’ve seen in recent years, you really can’t have enough depth.