Adam Kennedy Gets a Major League Roster Spot

Ned Colletti has reportedly given Adam Kennedy a major league contract. $800,000 is not a big deal to a major league team — it’s not even going to be 1% of the final player budget for the Dodgers. But why not save almost a half-million dollars?

Kennedy put the tenth-worst wOBA among players with at least 350 plate appearances last year. Only Adam Dunnn and Casey McGehee were “higher” on the list and didn’t play center field, shortstop, or catcher.

How did he manage the feat? By being Adam Kennedy, but more. All of his rates were bad, but within a sigh of his career rates. He had a below-average ISO (.121) but it was actually better than his career number (.112). He didn’t walk much (5.4%), but he never has (6.5% career). He struck out a little more than usual (16.4%), but not a ton more (13.4% career). His BABIP wasn’t great (.266) but even with his expected BABIP (.312), he wouldn’t have pushed his batting average over .260, or his on-base percentage much past .300. Even with neutral batted ball luck in a nicer park, he would be a minus with the bat. Only four times in his career has he even been better than league average.

It wasn’t some sort of one-season thing in other words. He has the twelfth-worst wOBA with anyone over 750 PAs since 2010 started. And, once again, the list is peppered with shortstops, centerfielders… and Jose Lopez and Chone Figgins.

And Kennedy doesn’t add value with glove like a centerfielder or a shortstop — even a bad one. A second baseman by trade, Kennedy could play scratch defense at the position, most likely. But the metrics have never liked his work at third base, and even if it was a move based on need, it can’t be good news that the Mariners moved him to first base for 218 innings in 2011.

But we return to the fact that it’s only $800K we’re talking about. Why not?

Well, the why not comes the scarcity of roster positions, upside, and the almost half-mill they could save by going with an in-house option.

Let’s take the last first. The Dodgers already have too many utility infielders. Maybe Juan Uribe will have to play third base. Mark Ellis is in the fold for second base. That still leaves Russ Mitchell, Justin Sellers, and Ivan De Jesus as possible utility infielders and backups around the infield.

Each of those players will cost the major league minimum, or $480,000 next year. According to reports, that means the Dodgers have wasted $320K on Kennedy if any of the three could be as good with the bat.

Bill James projections, which sometimes seem to predict an inflated offensive environment, have Kennedy as a .289 wOBA dude in 2012. Sellers (.295 wOBA BJ projection) can beat that and can play shortstop, too. ZiPs has DeJesus as a .267/.321/.356 batter, which beats every single one of Kennedy’s slash-line projections. Mitchell’s .241/.285/.384 ZiPs doesn’t really beat Kennedy’s projection handily, so maybe backup third base is the idea here. But if Sellers and DeJesus are already out in front of Kennedy, they could play third too.

And then there’s the upside beyond next year’s projections. All three of these three players are under 27. Mitchell has ISO’ed over .220 for two straight years at Triple-A, even if it was a favorable offensive environment. DeJesus doesn’t have much power or speed, but he did show a better walk rate in Triple-A last year then Kennedy has ever shown in the majors. Sellers? Good walk rate, but his power is almost certainly just a mirage in the desert. All of these guys have more upside than Kennedy.

Lastly, there’s roster scarcity. By giving Kennedy a roster spot, the team has denied one of these three young players a shot at showing what he has at the major league level. None of the three is going to prove much back in Albuquerque.

The team won’t learn much from Kennedy’s production next year. The upside of the player in that spot is muted. And the roster spot is now more expensive. That’s a triple threat to the future of the team, all rolled up into one roster spot.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers’ fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A’s or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Maybe he’s good friends with Matt Kemp. For 800k, it’s worth it to see Kemp smile.