I have looked at a blank page for about twenty minutes now, rattling away and trying to devise a clever way to start this blog. But, I got nothin’. So, I’m just going to go right out and ask the question:
Why is Howie Kendrick still an Angel?
I almost cringed when I typed that, because Howie Kendrick is awesome. Since 2010, of all qualifying second baseman (1500 or more plate appearances), Kendrick ranks twelfth in wOBA, tenth in wRC+, and ninth in slugging percentage. On the other side of the ball, Kendrick ranks fifth in UZR and sixth in DRS among second baseman logging at least 4,000 innings at second base since 2010. While not eye-popping rankings, all of these traits together combine for 13.1 fWAR which is good enough for seventh in baseball. An even more encouraging aspect of Kendrick’s production is that, of the six players with a higher WAR, only Dustin Pedroia is younger than Kendrick (and only by a couple of days). Kendrick has more years of productivity left, compared to other good second basemen.
Using Oliver’s projections on Fangraphs, Kendrick is forecasted to age incredibly well. Projected to be worth 3.5 WAR in the 2014 season, his decline over the next five years will be gradual and expected, bottoming out at 2.4 WAR in 2018 (given 600 plate appearances) as a 34 year old. For reference, in 2013, eleven full time second baseman were worth 2.4 wins or fewer. Kendrick in five years, will be worth the same as a 2013 Ian Kinsler. Howie Kendrick is awesome.
But I want to trade him.
He doesn’t need to be an Angel. As good as he is, the one and only position the Angels have a respectable pool of young, cheap, talent is at second base. Grant Green, while his defensive (in)capabilities have been well documented, is entering his age 26 season and is at a now-or-never part of his career. Even if Green flames out with the bat as a regular, Taylor Lindsey, the Angels top prospect, is nearly MLB ready and next in line in the second base carousel. The same Taylor Lindsey who Fangraphs’ Dan Syzmborski likens to Martin Prado in his 2014 ZiPS projections. OH WAIT THERE’S MORE. Even if they trade Kendrick, Green flames out, and Lindsey just doesn’t get it, Alex Yarbrough still projects to be an above replacement level player this year, although he probably won’t be needed for at least a year or two more. Simply put, the Angels have options. Options that will be cheaper than 20 million over the next two years.
I do not want to mislead the readers of this blog. Make no mistake, Howie Kendrick is far superior than any of these options. By at least two full wins. However, my argument is that Kendrick’s replacement (Green, Lindsey, Yarbrough, Romine etc) in addition to what Howie Kendrick can net in a trade is greater than just Howie Kendrick.
But what can Howie Kendrick net in a trade? That was the question I wanted to answer when I sat down to write these eighteen thousand words. Being as fickle as I am, I’m still not sure that I have an answer for that. BUT! I think I do. And I can’t wait for someone to tell me how wrong I am.
The Trade is broken down into three parts:
Part 1) The Angels trade Howie Kendrick and Matt Shoemaker to the Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are going into this 2014 season as supposed contenders for both the American League East and to be in the World Series. This would be okay, except they are currently employing a second base platoon of Maicer Izturis (.236/.288/.310, -2.1 WAR) and Ryan Goins (.252/.264/345, 0.4 WAR). Yikes. I think one of my roommates and I could give the Blue Jays more value at second base. Enter Howie Kendrick.
Trading uber prospects Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud to the Mets before the 2013 season for Jose Reyes and RA Dickey, the Blue Jays signaled to the baseball world that they are clearly in the proverbial “win-now” mode. Oliver projects Kendrick to be worth 3.5 wins (given 600 plate appearances), which would be a 5 win improvement the 2013 “production” the Blue Jays got at the keystone. Combining Kendrick with the signing of either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez (as a simple Blue Jays search on mlbtraderumors.com will show is likely), could turn this team into a perennial contender in the gauntlet that is the AL East. Shoemaker would give the Blue Jays a replacement pitcher to help them compensate for the package they are giving up for Kendrick, discussed in the next part.
Part 2) The Blue Jays trade RHP Marcus Stroman, RHP Alberto Tirado and LHP Sean Nolin to the Chicago Cubs
While the Blue Jays traded Syndergaard last winter, their system is still oozing with pitching prospects. The top 7 Blue Jays prospects, as ranked by Keith Law, are all pitchers. Consensus top prospect Aaron Sanchez would likely be the only prospect off the table, considering the Blue Jays desire to compete now. Stroman (58th best prospect Keith Law, 27th by Baseball Prospectus, 56th by Fangraphs) would be the immediate prize of the Theo Epstein’s package (hehe…package). While the Cubs are rich with position prospects, with Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Mike Olt, Kris Bryant all on the cusp on the majors, the few pitching prospects they have are further from the majors. Yet, as Epstein’s and the Cubs involvement with the Masahiro Tanaka saga indicated, the Cubs are ready to compete while Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are still cheap-ish. Stroman is projected to be rotation ready by this year and has a ceiling ranging anywhere from a top tier starter, to an even higher tier reliever, with starter being more likely.
Tirado is only 18 years old, and is a ways away from sniffing the bigs—but all scouting reports are pointing to the fact that this kid could be a monster. Sean Nolin is an MLB ready prospect projected to have the capabilities of being an innings eater fourth starter type. The Cubs would need a replacement pitcher to fill the void left by the next part of the trade.
Part 3) The Angels receive Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs
The Angels came into this offseason with one main concern: pitching, pitching, and more pitching. The trade of Mark Trumbo answered part of that question. Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago should bring some stability to the back end of the rotation. Their projected rotation probably stands with Weaver, Wilson, Richards, Santiago and Blanton, with Skaggs likely starting the year in the minors. I’m sold on Skaggs. I think he has the pedigree and track record to become a front of the rotation type pitcher. I’m not sold on Santiago, and am definitely not sold on Garrett Richards’ decision to throw his cutter as much in 2014. While potentially solid, the Angels could make it a point to attain that battle-tested, veteran starting pitcher fans are longing for. This is Samardzija.
Samardzija is entering his age 29 season, is a free agent after 2015 and is scheduled to make 5.3 million in 2014, avoiding arbitration (4 million less than Kendrick). Samardzija has been relatively durable since becoming a starter, throwing nearly 400 innings and accruing sixty one starts since 2012. To be clear, these aren’t your typical Bronson Arroyo/Jason Vargas “innings-eater” innings. These are innings where he strikes out nearly a quarter (24.1%) of the batter he faces. These strikeout numbers are better than bonafide aces Madison Bumgarner, David Price and Cole Hamels while rating just a tenth of a percent lower than the luckiest man in the world, Kate Upton’s boyfriend. His high strikeout rate could partially mask the gaping defensive hole at second base that would be Grant Green or Taylor Lindsey.
One reason why Samardzija has become so under-the-radar, compared to these aces, is that he does have one problem: he gives up homeruns. During that same two year window, since Samardzija has been a starter, he has the eighth highest HR/FB% in the bigs. However, some of this can be remedied in Anaheim, simply because he’s not in Chicago anymore. Chicago is the eighth easiest park to hit a homerun in, while Anaheim rates as the tenth hardest. Furthermore, of the 45 homeruns he’s given up since 2012, 34 of them have come either in Wrigley, or in a ballpark that ranks in the top 5 easiest parks to hit a homer in. Upon coming to Anaheim, he’ll pitch in Anaheim (20th easiest), Oakland (25th), Arlington (19th), and Seattle (21st).
Samardzija outpitched his over 4.10 combined ERA over the last two years. Using his 3.42 xFIP, which best isolates a pitcher’s skill-set, Samardzija had the fifth biggest gap between the two. A top of the rotation of Samardzija, Weaver and Wilson (in any order) followed by a Skaggs/Richards/Blanton/Santiago back half, would be a dramatic improvement over the 2013 “pitching” staff.
I don't want to trade Howie Kendrick. But I do want to trade Howie Kendrick. The value of his replacement (either Green or Lindsey) plus the value of Samardzija plus the money being saved is greater than the value of Kendrick alone. I hate myself for saying this, but, my name is Kevin Lappin, and I want to trade Howie Kendrick.