…and the Jason Kendall Era Begins in KC

Gods of Baseball, why must you test me so?

Earlier tonight, before my wife and I went out for supper, I read reports that the Royals had signed Jason Kendall for four million dollars over two years. I shuddered and began thinking about how to explain this silliness to even the most obstinate Dayton Moore-defender. Halfway through the meal I made the foolish (in more ways than one) mistake of looking at my BlackBerry. Kendall had, in fact, signed with the Royals for two years and six million dollars, a contract that, like Ivan Rodriguez‘s deal with the Nationals, is appropriate for about a 1 WAR player. I then realized that anyone would understand why this contract is ridiculous.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: The Royals aren’t going to be getting any “interest” from Kendall’s excellent 1999-2004, or decent 2005-2006. They’re getting the 2010/11 model. CHONE projects Kendall to hit a .247/.317/.315 in Kansas City, or 25 runs below average per 150 games. My own projection is roughly the same: .240/.313/.316; -26/150.

The Royals aren’t just paying for Kendall’s “bat,” but for his allegedly tremendous defense. CHONE’s TotalZone system apparently didn’t get the memo, projecting Kendall at -2/150. Other sources are the the same ballpark: I had Kendall at -4.5 runs in 2009. Translating the 2009 Fans’ Scouting Report to runs, I got about -3.

Even with the positional adjustment for catchers, Kendall projects as a 0.5 WAR player per 150 games, and few catchers play 150 games. The Royals managed to acquire a guy who is barely better than a AAA journeyman, will be 36 in 2010, will likely be replacement level or below in 2011 if he isn’t already, and are paying him six million dollars over two years. This would be a bad contract no matter what the team’s situation.

For the Royals, it’s even worse. For one thing, the Royals are at the opposite end of the “value of a marginal win spectrum” from, say, the Rays. If Dayton Moore and Jack Zduriencik switched places today, the Royals probably wouldn’t be ready to contend until at least 2012. Why blow money on a rich man’s replacement player now?

Moreover, the Royals have better internal options. Yes, Kendall will achieve what few could in making Royals fans miss the magic of Miguel Olivo‘s strike-zone judgment and pitch-blocking skills. He’s gone, but there’s also a personal (and admittedly irrational) favorite of mine: the soon-to-be-non-tendered John Buck, who (aside from many fans never forgiving him for being part of the Carlos Beltran “haul”) has defensive problems of his own. Since Dayton Moore came to town, he has played Michael Scott to Buck’s Toby Flenderson. While it wouldn’t be worth it for the Royals to pay Buck’s likely arbitration award, as Rany Jazayerli suggests, they at least could have seen if they could non-tender Buck then re-sign him for less than Kendall, as Buck looks to be a 1-1.5 WAR player according to CHONE (if teams are smart, he will get a fair bit of attention once he’s non-tendered).

Buck is likely a dead issue at this point, but the Royals also have Brayan Pena, who was acquired off waivers in 2008 in one of Dayton Moore’s smarter moves (insert joke here). CHONE projects his bat at league average and his glove at -5 — a 2.7 WAR catcher. That is probably optimistic; but if Pena is a -5 hitter and a -10 defender, that’s still about a 1.5 WAR player — much better than Kendall. Even if Pena is a -10 hitter and -15 defender… you guessed it, that’s about the same as Jason Kendall projects for 2010, minus about $2.5 million in salary. Maybe the Royals will “get smart” and sit Kendall for Pena, but a rebuilding team that puts itself into the situation of paying a backup catcher three million dollars a year doesn’t bring the word “smart” to mind.

Buck and Pena aren’t the primary issue here. They are examples that emphasize both the overpayment and pointlessness of the Kendall acquisition, particularly on a team that will be lucky to win 75 games in 2010. It is tempting to turn this into a rant about Dayton Moore, but frankly, this probably won’t be my last chance to do so this off-season. Instead, let’s have some words from the man of the hour himself, Jason Kendall:

“There were other offers,” [Kendall] said, “but one thing about Dayton and the Royals is, they called me the first day I became a free agent. That’s something that kind of speaks for itself.”

Indeed.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


54 Responses to “…and the Jason Kendall Era Begins in KC”

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    • David Roland says:

      /Well, you were WRONG. Jason Kendall actually hit .257/.318/.297 w/37 rbi and 111 hits, plus he ended his season on Aug 30th, so his season totals would no doubt be higher. And he played some of the season w/a mangled arm. I know he’s not Barry Bonds, but I think that you unnecessarily underrated and bashed on him unfairly before the season had started.

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  1. NYRoyal says:

    I wish I could hope for a better replacement for Dayton Moore. Instead, when he’s fired in 2012 (fingers crossed), the Glass’s will hire another “good baseball man” with his baseball mind stuck in the 1970′s.

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    • Gopherballs says:

      No, Tony Blengino will ace the interview.

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      • Joser says:

        Tony will start talking about wOBA and FIP and he’ll get tossed out of the offices to chants of “Witch! Witch!

        Besides, I’m not sure anyone as smart as Tony wants that job. Sure, there are only 30 GM jobs and every assistant aspires to one but why begin your career in that deep of a hole? A lot less hopeless positions — Houston, the Nationals — will be available soon enough.

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      • I’m not sure that Houston is less hopeless, even counting on a smart GM getting a good return for Berkman and Oswalt. Same could be said for Washington, despite Strausburg.

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      • Joser says:

        That was meant to be humor, of the “A job with real job security, you know, like Captain of the Titanic” variety.

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  2. Paul says:

    The Kendall deal is crap on its own. Bringing John Buck into it detracts from an argument that makes itself. If the whole 500 word thing is the excuse, no worries. Not going into the season with Brayan Pena and some guy (or maybe Anthony Recker in the Rule 5) is a fail. Plain and simple.

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  3. KowboyKoop says:

    Let’s get Benito Santiago to be the backup and then just make Brayan Pena clean jockstraps. I think that is the way to go DM.

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    • NYRoyal says:

      So which is worse, Brandon Lyon for 3/15, or Jason Kendall for 2/6? I guess I have to go with Lyon due to the sheer size and duration of the contract. But of course Lyon at least has some value. Kendall is going to struggle creep over replacement level.

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  4. Diaz says:

    Nice “Office” reference. Toby is my favorite character and I have always had an unexplainable appreciation for John Buck.

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  5. Andrew I. says:

    My sarcasm detector is in the shop so I’m not sure if Paul is taking a jab at Matt Klaassen or not but going into the season with John Buck and Brayan Pena would save $6 million dollars and have similar, if not better production. John Buck is a capable backstop in the majors. Will he win you a fantasy league? No. But who cares? Was it a surprise to anyone that Moore selected someone from the Braves during the draft yesterday? In anyevent, he is Bill Bavasi reincarnated. He lied to the fan base last year when he said he was going for OBP and goes after Mike Jacobs Coco Crisp and Willie Bloomquist. He then trades for Yuniesky Betencourt. I commended the Tehan deal, but not if it’s at the cost of Callaspo. I digest. I find it ironic that after this site paid a compliment to Moore in the post about Mike Jacobs that the Kendall deal is finalized. All hope is still lost in KC. Could be worse I suppose, they could have Pudge Rodriguez and Kendall…

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    • petejohn says:

      Exactly.

      No, John Buck is not the answer, but what Moore has done is sign up a formerly good player who now stinks and is paying for the semi-premium name, not the ability. It’s a waste of money, plain and simple.

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  6. GameOfInches says:

    Thats the Royals for you. The last team in baseball to not have a calculator in the GMs office. This is the same team that signed Willie Bloomquist after a season where he hit 1 XBH in 200 PAs so Jason Kendall is actually an improvement

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  7. royalpug says:

    Even worse is that Buck isn’t going to make that much money in arbitration, maybe 3.5 this year and 4.5 next year. While 8 million isn’t great…its certainly much much better than the Kendall contract.

    Truly the only hope is that Pena gets most of the starts behind the plate.

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  8. uzr is a joke says:

    Moore has already come out and said he expects Kendall to start 130 games. Not giving Pena a shot is moronic. If they are that worried about his game calling ability, couldn’t they hire someone to teach him this offseason and during the season for a couple hundred grand? You know, maybe have a guy who watches film with Pena, and dissects hitters with him. Some retired catcher with nothing better to do with his time. I dunno.

    But anyway, last year, Hillman’s lineups produced a .236/.278/.329 slash line from the two hole, which is actaully worse than Kendall’s .241/.331/.305. Sadly, the team gets better than last year’s team when Hillman sticks Kendall in the two hole. However as a Royals fan, this deal makes me feel like I just got stuck in the two hole.

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    • Rob says:

      It important to note Kendall with throw a hissy fit if he doesn’t get to start 5 out of 6 games. In Milwaukee he’d catch day night doubleheaders and day games following night games regularly.

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  9. TJ says:

    It’s like the movie Major League is playing out right before my eyes!

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  10. Andy says:

    you know what’s funny? Through age 25:

    Jason Kendall:1715 AB, .312/.399/.451 (120 OPS+)
    Joe Mauer: 2059 AB, .317/.399/.457 (127 OPS+)

    Kendall’s recent years really make it hard to remember just how good he used to be. Now, Mauer’s power surge this year kind of separated the two, but this seems like a fun thing to throw around to get Twins fans scared.

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    • Yes, I’m sure Twins fans are terrified of Mauer stinking it up in Boston like that.

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      • Joser says:

        Boston? Posada is on his last legs. Not to mention a couple of NL East teams that could use him. I wouldn’t be fitting him for a Red Sox uni quite yet….

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      • JoeR43 says:

        Not to mention I think it’s more than worth it for the Twins to give him 6 years / $170-$180 million. Even if he doesn’t perform to it, what a PR disaster if the hero of that city leaves one year after the new stadium opens up.

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  11. JollyRoger says:

    All 2nd tier free agents should seriously consider switching agents.

    Forget about Boras.

    The guys that negotiated for Lyon & Kendall are magicians in disguise..

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  12. petejohn says:

    Why is it that GMDM stacks depth at positions where you don’t need, or even want depth? I mean, this post talked about four catchers. Four. Last year the Royals had Jacobs, Butler, Shealy, and Kila (who they simply ignore for some reason) piled up at first. Meanwhile, they were running Willie Bloomquist, the injured corpse of Mike Aviles, Luis Hernandez, and Yuniesky Betancourt out there at SS. Shouldn’t you have MORE decent players at SS than at 1B? Why do they do these things? Why is Moore so obtuse about these things?

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  13. Ken says:

    JoeR43 – Ken Griffey Jr. left Seattle after playing 1/2 season in the Safeco Field. It wasn’t as much of a disaster as you might think. But I certainly hope Mauer stays in Minnesota.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      SEA was also able to bring in Ichiro a year later.

      I’m trying to think of who MIN could bring in to take the place of local hero Mauer if such a situation would arise?

      I know there are studies that show that signing a star doesn;t inherently bring up attendance. But, I am also aware that in the stands at Busch Stadium there is a domination of #5 jerseys/shirts, that could not likely be replaced by another.

      I would imagine that MIN and Mauer have the same relationship, if not greater given Mauer’s growing up in MIN (even though Pujols played JuCo ball in MO). Mauer is, at least, the “Kirby of this generation” (probably much more so).

      I agree with the “pay him what he wants to keep him here” idea, as I am struggling to think of who they could replace him with. Back to the SEA situation, it may have been VERY differnt had Junior went to CIN and played like he had been (without injury) and SEA was unable to land Ichiro. Who knows what would have happened to the mariners. They may have led to a smilar fate as the Sonics. *Shrugs*

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      • Joser says:

        Contrary to common perception outside the NW, the fate of the Sonics had nothing to do with fan support nor was poor attendance or revenue the reason for their departure. Measured by percentage of available seats in their home court, the Sonics consistently ranked in the top 10 in the NBA right up to their last season in Seattle — when attendance tanked because it became clear that the new ownership group had misrepresented their intentions when they bought the team and never intended to keep it in Seattle regardless of fan support, sweetheart arena deals, or anything else.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Point taken.

        I could have left out that Sonics part altogether.

        My main point was that SEA wa able to bring in a mega-star (an international one, no less) after Griffey left.

        That was, perhaps, a once in a decade (or more) opportunity, as I don;t know any 3-time Japan League MVPs that are available in the near future that could replace Mauer at C and be just as popular in a region that isn;t exactly diverse in its demographics (not compared to SEA anyway).

        Furthermore, losing Mauer could also mean losing Morneau. While Morneau’s performance is often over-rated when compared to Mauer’s … the fact that they are best friends, and stars in a small market, in a (seemingly) close-knit franchise has to account for something.

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      • hk says:

        Morneua is signed through 2013, so losing Mauer does not mean they will lose Morneua.

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      • hk says:

        Excuse my spelling, Morneau, not Morneua.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        By stating that MIN may lose Morneau if they don’t resign Mauer, I was not inherently meaning within the same off-season.

        Really, by saying that they “lose” Morneau I meant “lose the realistic chance of resigning him”. But, by 2013, they may not care so much.

        It is also possible that Morneau, following the loss of Mauer, demands a trade. I don;t know Morneau or whether this is even a realistic scenario worth dissecting.

        I was merely point out one more possible reason (as if MIN needed any more) to sign Mauer for a premium contract.

        I would not list “increase chances of resigning Morneau” (or even “may lose Morneau”) as even a top 5 reason for giving Mauer a sweet deal.

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      • Joe R says:

        Yes, the Sonics didn’t leave because of lack of fan support, they left for political reasons.

        Sad, really, fans in Seattle didn’t deserve that.

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  14. Choo says:

    War-hardened catchers with a scowl that grades out as a 70 on the 20-80 scale don’t grow on trees. When that same catcher is too tough for batting gloves, you better pony up the extra $2 million and fast, because if you don’t, Ed Wade will.

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  15. Steve says:

    What’s ridiculous is that you’re site claims Kendall was worth $11.8M over the last two years.

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    • FanGraphs doesn’t yet carry catcher defense, and that’s been acknowledged. In any case, we’re discussing his value going forward.

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      • Steve says:

        Hey thanks for replying, I wasn’t expecting a reply from you but really appreciate it. I see what you’re saying but Kendall really can’t get much worse (but he probably will, he’s Jason Kendall). Kendall’s OPS ranked 33rd out of 37 catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. That CHONE projection in the article is almost identical to his line from 2009. I don’t fully understand WAR and all the things that go into determining the salary value (I know I should read that before criticizing the system) but it just seems that a player is given too much credit for being a catcher?

        Here’s what I know: Kendall was paid $4.25M, played in 134 games, posted a .636 OPS, and was worth $5.4M in 2009. This probably isn’t the place for this argument but could you find a baseball analyst anywhere that thinks the Brewers got their money’s worth last season? I’m not expecting to see an article about how Kendall was worth that $4.25M the Brewers paid him last season. And if Kendall really was worth $11.8M over the last two seasons, is it really so crazy to think he would be worth $6M over the next two seasons? Bill James has Kendall down for 128 games and a .658 OPS in ’10.

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    • Choo says:

      “What’s ridiculous is that you’re site claims Kendall was worth $11.8M over the last two years.”

      Not at all. You should read this: The Dollar Value of a Win

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    • Ivdown says:

      I honestly can’t take the $ value seriously on this site. If everyone really made that amount (assuming they were all 1 year free agents), it would be completely ridiculous. I would imagine a player is worth, in most cases, maybe 75% of what this site says they are actually worth.

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  16. MetsFan says:

    The forearm tattoos are also a key. I think that’s why the Mets got Blanco. We are trying to corner up the market on veteran catchers who can manage a staff. It’s a shame Kendall slipped away. Between Blanco, Coste and maybe Molina, I’m going to pencil Ollie for a Cy Young.

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    • Mitchell says:

      Don’t forget Santos! Maybe Minaya figures he can morph them all into one super-catcher. By combining their WAR, he might have a league-average catcher. Taking “intangibles” into account, this being would be far better than Mauer.

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  17. Jon says:

    I did a quick search to turn up an article that would explain why the Royals appear to be overpaying Jason Kendall:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?id=2413121

    The fact is, the stats we use to assess players usually aren’t very good at capturing the effectiveness of catchers in working with pitchers. I know some years you can see large differences in pitchers’ results working with one catcher as opposed to another. It may be that the Royals get much more out of their pitching staff with a guy like Kendall behind the plate, and they also get someone their young pitchers and catchers can really learn from.

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    • Eric says:

      Can you (or anyone) point to a specific example of that happening with some sort of quantitatively-based evidence?

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    • 1) That’s good copy by the As, but note that Kendall was actually around league average or better during most of his tenure in Oakland, which was a long time ago, especially in 35-year-old catcher years.

      2) Leaving aside the numerous studies that have been done which have not found any significance to “catcher’s ERA” or whatever, I’m sure that Zack Greinke will be relieved to finally have a gritty veteran catcher to help him out after his brutal 2008 and 2009 seasons.

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    • Joser says:

      …and many years you can see larger variations in pitchers’ results when they’ve been working with the same catcher. ERA is a terrible stat; sticking “Catcher” in front of it just makes it worse. But I certainly can believe DM wants Kendall for his “intangibles” because this contract is indefensible based on his tangibles.

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  18. Yes, well put, but there is little doubt that belief in some form of catcher’s ERA is what led to this and Ivan Rodriguez’s signings. There is no other logical explanation. Keep in mind a majority of people have much stronger unshakeable belief in things with far stronger contradictory evidence.

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  19. KowboyKoop says:

    John Buck just signed for 1 year/2 million.

    Brilliant.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      I love the Royals. Two better options on their roster already, and they bring in Jason Kendall.

      Obviously players with slugging percentages that wouldn’t rank in the top 10 of batting averages are valuable commodities in KC.

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  20. gorillagogo says:

    Just out of curiosity, do any of the defensive stats for catcher take into account his game-calling ability? I’m wondering if the Royals are willing to pay more for Kendall because they believe he handles pitchers well. I’m not sure how you could capture that data point accurately, since it seems to be more art than science. Here in Pittsburgh Kendall always had a good “reputation” for handling pitchers when he was with the Pirates, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some industry types still have the same impression.

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    • Yeah, I’m sure that’s what they think. I suppose I should have linked with Keith Woolner’s classic study.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=432

      From Woolner’s conclusion:

      Though we would colloquially say that game-calling doesn’t exist, it’s more accurate to say that if there is a true game-calling ability, it lies below the threshold of detection. There is no statistical evidence for a large game-calling ability, but that doesn’t preclude that a small ability. For example, a genuine game-calling ability that reduces a pitcher’s ERA by 0.01, resulting in a savings of about 1.6 runs per year for the entire team and could be masked by the statistical variance in the sample size we have to work with. Players would need to play thousands more games than they actually do to have enough data to successfully detect such a skill statistically.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      I don’t think you’re a believer in cERA and “game-calling” judging by the post, but either way, here’s an interesting read from Keith Woolner in 2002:

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1489

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