Friday evening the Washington Nationals made their second significant trade deadline acquisition, receiving IF/OF Howie Kendrick and cash considerations from Philadelphia in exchange for LHP McKenzie Mills and international bonus money. Due to injuries to OFs Jayson Werth, Michael A. Taylor, Ryan Raburn and Chris Heisey, Washington found themselves with only three healthy outfielders on the roster earlier this week, forcing the team to look for reinforcements.
The 34-year-old Kendrick has battled injuries much of this season, but has been productive when healthy, batting .340/.397/.454 with 2 homers and 8 stolen bases. For his 12-year major league career, Kendrick has a .290/.334/.418 batting line with 97 home runs and 119 stolen bases. Kendrick has impressive barrel skills and a compact swing, giving him an easy plus hit tool. Additionally, Kendrick has added defensive versatility the past two seasons, seeing time at first base, third base and left field, along with his natural second base. He is not a great defender, but his speed and reasonable arm allow him to be passable at each spot. He should see plenty of at-bats in left field for the Nationals until either Werth or Taylor returns, when he should slide into a super-utility role.
In exchange for Kendrick, Washington parts with 21-year-old left-handed pitcher McKenzie Mills, their 18th round selection in 2015. Mills is having a tremendous season for Low-A Hagerstown, posting a 3.01 ERA with 118 strikeouts over 104.2 innings pitched: this success earned him a promotion to High-A earlier this week. Mills possesses a 4-pitch repertoire, with a low-90s fastball, a mid-70s slider and changeup, along with a low-70s curveball. He has a solid fastball and the changeup is promising, but his difficulties spinning a breaking ball limits his ceiling. If he can improve his breaking pitches, he has a chance to work as a backend starter, with his likely role being a Triple-A starter. Mills is a nice starter kit for a major league pitcher, but he needs more work than his impressive statistics might imply.
* For more information on Mills, please see my evaluation article here -> http://natsgm.com/2017/05/08/evaluating-mckenzie-mills/
According to various media reports, Philadelphia is sending enough money to Washington to cover nearly all of Kendrick’s salary, allowing the Nationals not to add to their payroll or get closer to the luxury tax. On the flip side, Washington is sending Philadelphia international bonus pool money, which the Phillies have been known to covet and was somewhat superfluous to the Nationals due to ramifications from last year’s budget-busting international crop. Essentially both teams receive something significantly more valuable to them than what they are parting with, sweetening the deal for both sides.
Both Washington and Philadelphia did well in this trade. Philadelphia receives a prospect and additional international money in exchange for a rental player and his salary, making this a worthwhile swap for the Phillies. And Washington parts with an A-ball pitcher with a mild ceiling and spare international funds to fill a current hole in left field, while bolstering their bench ahead of the playoffs. Kendrick is a versatile defender with speed, along with a proven contact hitter, traits that make him particularly valuable as a bench player and pinch hitter. Not to mention Kendrick has 103 postseason at-bats, giving him plenty of playoff experience.
Washington’s past playoff struggles have often been a direct result of subpar bullpen pitchers and bench options, so this trade specifically targets one of these weaknesses. Certainly losing Mills hurts the organizational pitching depth, but this trade immediately improves the Nationals’ roster and leaves them in position to make yet another trade ahead of the trade deadline.
NatsGM Grade -> Strong B