Washington Nationals: Don’t forget about Howie Kendrick this offseason
By Blake Finney
After suffering an Achilles injury in May, the Washington Nationals definitely missed Howie Kendrick. He’ll be back for 2019, and shouldn’t be forgotten.
When the Washington Nationals signed Howie Kendrick to a two-year deal last offseason, they hoped he’d be a reliable veteran presence in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles back in May and missed the rest of the season.
Before the injury, Kendrick was slashing a handy .303/.331/.474 with 14 doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI. He was filling in for Daniel Murphy at second base, while Wilmer Difo manned the hot corner with Anthony Rendon also injured.
Then when Rendon came back, Kendrick saw some time in left field, which is where he picked up his injury. He caught a sac fly at the warning track in the eighth inning of a game against the LA Dodgers and needed to be carted off.
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While the injury did result in fast-tracking Juan Soto to the major leagues, the team still missed Kendrick’s bat off the bench, which is likely where he would’ve slid in if Soto and Murphy were there. He was injured on May 19th and after that date, the Nats had a poor .611 OPS from right-handed pinch-hitters after that date, which ranked 12th in the National League.
The Nats were also missing a lot of veteran leadership in 2018 with a young core, and most of the experienced not necessarily known for being quite as vocal. While Kendrick was around the clubhouse at times, it’s tougher to be a leader when you’re not out there playing regularly.
Looking ahead to 2019
According to Baseball Reference, the Nationals got the least Wins Above Average of any team in the National League at second base in 2018. With Wilmer Difo underwhelming overall despite some hot-streaks, 2019 could start the same way as last year with Kendrick the primary starter and Difo spelling occasionally.
Over the course of the season, it’s unclear whether the organization wants to move Carter Kieboom there to get him to the big leagues next year. If he starts the year off well, then we could see him mid-season, but it all depends on his performance. The Nats won’t stunt his long-term development if he clearly needs more reps in the minor leagues, even if the second base pairing struggle initially.
The organization could also opt to bring in an outside free agent to strengthen the position, such as Brian Dozier or DJ LeMahieu. However, that seems relatively pointless if they just want a stopgap for Kieboom or even Luis Garcia a little further down the line, when Kendrick can do a good job there already.
LeMahieu is probably the best keystone player out there as a free agent. However, for someone whose price tag will be high, in reality, he’s not much of an upgrade over Kendrick. They’re both high average guys with limited pop, but LeMahieu plays better defense and is younger. It’s not worth the extra money at all.
Hopefully, when trying to piece together their roster for next season, the front office doesn’t forget about Kendrick. Fans are already clamoring for an upgrade, but in this instance, having Kendrick for the short-term before handing the keys over to one of their highly-rated prospects seems the best way to go.
Howie Kendrick is going to be a big boost to the Washington Nationals roster next season. Hopefully, he can heal up as expected and be ready to go by the start of Spring Training in West Palm Beach.