Howie Kendrick was an enormous asset off the bench for the Washington Nationals in 2017, but he is now a free agent. The Nats should attempt to re-sign him.
The Washington Nationals‘ bench played a huge role in their success in 2017. Between filling in for injured players, pinch-hitting, or just spelling a regular, they were thrust into large roles on a daily basis. Without the great performances from so-called bench players, the Nats would not have won anywhere close to 97 games.
One key member of the bench was utility player Howie Kendrick. After being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline, Kendrick batted .293 with seven homers in 52 games for the Nats.
In addition to producing offensively, Kendrick’s defensive versatility proved to be an enormous asset. Because of the plethora of injured Nats, he played first base, second base, left field, and right field. His ability to play multiple defensive positions well gave Dusty Baker some much-appreciated flexibility.
Kendrick also excelled as a pinch-hitter. In 2017, he owned a slash line of .357/.400/.500 while pinch-hitting. Pinch-hitting is widely believed to be one of the most difficult tasks in baseball, so his success is exceptional.
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Unfortunately, Kendrick is now a free agent. He will be very difficult to replace, so the Nats should attempt to re-sign him.
FanGraphs projected that he will receive a two year deal worth $10 million, which is not bad for a player of Kendrick’s caliber. Between his offensive prowess, defensive versatility, and success off the bench, he is a terrific player.
The Nats also have a few 2018 needs that Kendrick would fill. First, Adam Lind was a fantastic bat off the bench in 2017. Unfortunately, he is a free agent as well, and he is unlikely to return.
If Lind departs in free agency, the Nats need to acquire another big bat off the bench. While Kendrick does not possess the same power as Lind, he is still a great hitter. Considering his prior success off the bench, Kendrick is more than capable of being the Nats’ primary pinch-hitter in 2018.
Daniel Murphy may also miss some time at the beginning of 2018 after undergoing knee surgery shortly after the 2017 season. It is believed that he should realistically be able to return sometime in May.
While Murphy may surprise everyone and not have to miss much time, if any at all, it is unlikely. If he is forced to miss significant time in 2018, the Nats must have a solid back-up. Wilmer Difo had an excellent 2017 season, but it would be nice to have some options and flexibility. Re-signing Kendrick would provide just that.
Even after returning, Murphy may require additional off-days. If the Nats re-sign Kendrick, he would make giving Murphy extra days off more tolerable. Adam Eaton is also returning from major knee surgery in 2018, so he may require additional off-days as well. Because of Kendrick’s defensive versatility, he could fill in both at second base and left field.
Finally, Kendrick has extensive postseason experience, playing in 33 postseason games throughout his career. For a team who has yet to advance past the National League Division Series, this experience could be extremely beneficial.
The Nats had one of the best benches in the league in 2017, anchored by mid-season acquisition Howie Kendrick. He is now a free agent, but the Nats should absolutely attempt to re-sign him, as he should once again prove to be an enormous asset in 2018.