…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.


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