Howie Kendrick Returns To Washington

According to various media outlets, the Washington Nationals have signed Howie Kendrick to a 2-year pact worth $7 million guaranteed, along with an additional $2.25 million in incentives.  Washington acquired Kendrick last July in an inter-division trade with Philadelphia for prospect McKenzie Mills and international bonus money.

The 34-year-old Kendrick battled injuries much of last season, playing only 91 games for Philadelphia and Washington while hitting .315/.368/.475 with 9 home runs.  In particular Kendrick was invaluable for the Nationals, batting .293/.343/.494 and played four different defensive positions.  For his 12-year career, Kendrick owns a .291/.334/.421 batting line with 104 home runs and 123 stolen bases.  He has impressive barrel skills and a compact right-handed swing, allowing him to be an easy plus hitter.  Additionally, Kendrick has added some defensive versatility in his later years, seeing time at first, second and third base plus both corner outfield spots.  He is not a great defender, but his speed, athleticism and reasonable throwing arm allow him to be passable at each position.

Kendrick should provide valuable depth early this season at second base while Daniel Murphy recovers from offseason knee surgery, and act as a vital pinch-hitter off the bench.  Not to mention Kendrick will serve as a starting-quality backup behind Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, each of whom have had injury issues in the past.

Although the Hot Stove feels rather frigid this winter, the Nationals have done a nice job securing three veterans (Kendrick, Matt Adams & Brandon Kintzler) to fill voids on the roster at reasonable prices. Overall there is very little to quibble with this signing, although Kendrick does have some risks involved in his profile.  He will turn 35 this season and just completed his best offensive season in six years, leading to the obvious conclusion some regression is coming this season offensively.  However, Kendrick is a born hitter with natural athleticism, giving plenty of hope he should continue to be productive the next two years.  And considering Washington needed additional depth and made only a $7 million total guarantee, this is a terrific signing for the Nationals to secure Kendrick through 2019.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             A- / B+

Brandon Kintzler Officially Re-Signs With Washington

Last week during the winter meetings news broke the Washington Nationals and free agent Brandon Kintzler had agreed to terms on a 2-year contract, with both a club and player option for the 2nd season.  The math is rather fuzzy, as Kintzler is guaranteed $10 million overall, with a $5 million salary for 2018 and a $10 million club option for Washington in 2019 or a $5 million player option if the team declines their option.  In total, Kintzler can earn a maximum of $16 million for the next two years.

Washington acquired Kintzler last July for prospect Tyler Watson and international bonus funds in an effort to strengthen their relief corps.  The 33-year-old Kintzler spent the past two seasons working as Minnesota’s closer, posting a 2.98 ERA and 45 saves over 99.2 innings for the Twins, while notching an all-star selection in 2017.  Upon arriving in Washington, Kintzler provided a stabilizing force in the bullpen, giving the Nationals a 3.46 ERA and 1.154 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts against only 5 walks over 26 innings.

While Kintzler lacks swing-and-miss stuff (only 6.1 K/9), he limits his walks (2.2 BB/9), home runs allowed (0.79 HR/9) and induces ground balls at a strong 57.7% for his career.  He features primarily a 94mph sinker, along with a mid-90s 4-seam fastball, 87mph slider and upper-80s changeup.  He should return to his role as one-third of the “The Law Firm” of Kintzler, Madson & Doolittle next season and gives Washington a needed veteran presence in their bullpen.

Similarly to the Matt Adams signing, Washington’s front office should be commended for identifying a weakness on their roster, namely bullpen depth, and moving swiftly to acquire a good fit at a reasonable price.  In a market where inferior relievers like Juan Nicasio (2yrs $17 million) and Anthony Swarzak (2yrs $14 million) signed for larger guaranteed money, Kintzler’s contract feels like a relative bargain.  Washington obviously liked what they saw from him last season, and conversely, Kintzler must have felt comfortable with the organization as well.  Certainly there is risk involved with any free agent reliever and particularly one with Kintzler’s middling velocity, however, Washington did well to secure an above-average 7th/8th inning reliever for “only” $5 million next season.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             B

A New Adams Comes To Washington

Wednesday the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported the Washington Nationals and free agent Matt Adams had agreed on a 1-year deal worth $4 million, plus $500,000 in possible incentives.  The 29-year-old first baseman spent 2017 with both St. Louis and Atlanta, batting .274/.319/.522 with 20 home runs and 65 runs driven in.  Atlanta decided to non-tender Adams earlier this winter, rather than pay him a projected $4.6 million during arbitration.

Drafted by St. Louis in the 23rd round in 2009 from Slippery Rock University, Adams slugged his way through the Cardinals’ minor league system, reaching the majors in 2012.  During his 6-year major league career, the left-handed hitting Adams is a .271/.315/.469 batter over 586 total games.  Of particular interest to Washington is Adams’ ability to punish right-handed pitching, to the tune of .286/.333/.495 for his career.  Conversely, he struggles mightily against lefties, hitting a dreadful .206/.236/.357.  He projects to fill Adam Lind’s role from 2017 as a backup to Ryan Zimmerman at first base and a fearsome pinch hitter option late in games.

Building off Adam Lind, he and Matt Adams are eerily similar players – both are left-handed hitting first basemen whom have dabbled unsuccessfully playing corner outfield.  Lind is a career .272/.330/.465 hitter and a .288/.348/.504 hitter against righties, verses .271/.315/.469 and .286/.333/.495 for Adams – Washington interestingly passed on Lind’s $5 million contract option last month, only to sign Adam Lind 2.0 (aka Matt Adams) for $1 million less.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has done a nice job this winter targeting proven veterans to fill voids on the roster.  We are still awaiting official confirmation on the Brandon Kintzler contract and Adams must pass his physical, but considering the budget constraints, securing both for meager 2018 salaries is a clear win.  Adams is a flawed player who must be limited to first base defensively and hitting only against righties, but utilized properly, can be a highly productive hitter.  There is some risk involved in this signing due to his limitations, but Washington has found a nice value and quality match  with Matt Adams.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             Solid B, Borderline B+

Blanton To The Rescue – Washington Signs Joe Blanton

After months of speculation, Thursday the Washington Nationals addressed a big weakness, officially signing reliever Joe Blanton to a 1-year pact worth $4 million.  The deal comes with another $1 million in incentives and allows Washington to defer $3 million into the future.  His addition will bolster the right-handed pitching depth in Washington’s bullpen in addition to Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen and Koda Glover.  In a corresponding move, Spencer Kieboom was designated for assignment to clear a space on the 40-man roster for Blanton.

Blanton, 36, was surprisingly still available after a strong 2016 for the Dodgers, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80 strikeouts against only 55 hits and 26 walks allowed over 80 innings pitched.   After nearly 10 years working as a starter, Blanton has had a career transformation since moving to the bullpen.  Blanton has abandoned his sinker, which he used quite often as a starter, and now relies on his upper-80 slider and 91-92mph fastball, with the occasional curveball and changeup to get hitters out.  As a reliever Blanton does three things well, namely he strikes out nearly a batter per inning, while limiting his walks and home runs allowed.

The advanced metrics believe Blanton is a quality reliever that outpitched his numbers in 2016, as his .240 BABIP and 82% left on-base percentage last season are extremely difficult to achieve and replicate.  Blanton’s 2.92 and 3.33 FIP and 3.20 and 3.43 DRA the past two years say he is a strong option working as a setup man, exactly how he will be used in Washington.  Assuming he stays healthy, Blanton should serve as a key piece in the back of Washington’s bullpen in the 7th and 8th innings this season.

Unfortunately the team was forced to designate the 25-year-old Kieboom, Washington’s 5th round selection from Clemson University in 2012.  Drafted with the reputation as an outstanding defender, Kieboom has soft hands, excellent blocking skills and has thrown out 34% of attempted base stealers in his pro career.  Unfortunately his offense has not caught up to his defense, as Kieboom hit only .230/.324/.314 last season in 309 at-bats.  A right-handed hitter, Kieboom has a knack from drawing walks and pull side power, but his mediocre results at Double-A has most people questioning his hitting ability.

In addition, Kieboom found himself in an organizational roster crunch, as Washington has three major league capable catchers in Matt Wieters, Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton.  In the minors, Triple-A Syracuse projects to have Pedro Severino and Jhonatan Solano behind the plate, while Double-A should see Raudy Read as their starting catcher.  This left Kieboom as the projected backup at Double-A and without enough playing time to improve his offensive skills.  He has the potential to be a major league backup due to his defensive prowess, but the bat makes him a probable career Triple-A up-and-down type player.

Overall it is difficult to quibble with this move, as Washington outwaited an unusual free agent market and capitalized on an opportunity to acquire an overlooked reliever at a quality price.  Certainly Blanton does not resolve the question of who will close, but he gives the team another veteran pitcher and one who has proven to be an asset as a setup man.  Prior to this move, Washington was counting on Treinen and Glover to fill the 7th and 8th inning roles: no question both have the ability, but Blanton solidifies this spot and lengthens the bullpen’s depth.

The upgrade to Blanton from a less reliable option like Trevor Gott or Joe Nathan has to be worth 0.5-1.0 wins this season and should allow manager Dusty Baker to sleep easier at night.  In addition I would expect Washington to trade Kieboom in the next several days for something of value, making this acquisition even more valuable to the organization.  While not sexy, these are the exact type of underrated moves winning teams make each offseason that bolster the depth and talent of their roster.  Blanton is an ideal fit for Washington’s bullpen and came at a discount price, which makes this one of my favorite Hot Stove moves this offseason.

NatsGM Overall Grade   ->           A- / B+