Citing a report from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Angels are in the market for starting pitching and are dangling Howie Kendrick and David Freese as bait. While both players offer significant value to other clubs, Kendrick is the obvious choice to net the biggest return.
Kendrick was the unsung hero last season for Los Angeles, as he carried much more weight offensively than anyone could have imagined. He put up All-Star numbers for the Angels, and really helped solidify the lineup while Josh Hamilton was injured. For a large portion of the 2014 season Kendrick batted cleanup, and this led to him tying his career high in RBI’s with 75. Howie was a quality performer across the board, batting .293, with 7 home runs, 14 steals and 33 doubles, all while playing great defense at second base. Kendrick also posted a career high in WAR last season at 5.4.
David Freese was acquired last offseason by the Angels from the St. Louis Cardinals along with reliever, Fernando Salas, in exchange for outfielders, Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. In retrospect, the Halos got hosed in this deal. Freese had an inconsistent campaign in 2014 for the Angels. Freese had his fair share of torrid streaks, but also had stretches where he was colder than my ex-girlfriend. Freese finished the year batting .260, with 10 long balls, and 55 RBI’s across 134 games. Freese’s measly 1.4 WAR speaks to his mediocrity. These are not the type of numbers a team seeking an upgrade at third base will be looking to trade for.
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Based on the numbers alone, trading Howie Kendrick makes little sense.
However, the numbers fail to take into account Kendrick’s free agency status. Howie remains under contract for the 2015 season, but after that he is an unrestricted free agent. Similarly, David Freese is entering his final year of salary arbitration this season, and next winter he too will be free to test the waters in Free Agency.
At the moment the Angels are cash strapped with multiple mega-deals already on the books. For Kendrick in particular the demand will be high, and when the sweet smell of money comes wafting in from rival clubs, he may be unable to refuse. Freese figures to be much more affordable considering his middling statistics. In other words, the Angels have a much better chance of affording to re-sign David Freese than they do of retaining Howie Kendrick following the 2015 season.
Also, it is worth noting that Angels are reportedly dangerously close to exceeding the luxury tax threshold, something Angels Owner, Arte Moreno, has been hesitant to do since purchasing the team in 2003. Freese is projected to earn 6.5 million this coming season, while Kendrick’s salary is roughly 9.5 million. Parting ways with Kendrick could allow for some much need breathing room financially.
Both players will be 32-years-old when their contracts expire next fall. For David Freese this is not critical. Freese plays a position that allows players to excel at an advanced age, look at Adrian Beltre for example. Great mobility is not a necessity to man the hot corner, and Freese’s bat does not figure to fade until much later in his career.
Howie Kendrick on the other hand could see a significant drop-off in production in the years to come. Playing second base is very demanding on the body, and unless you have Robinson Cano like ability you will not be an everyday player at 35. Howie is a pure hitter, and that likely will not change, but his defense will undoubtedly suffer as he ages. His .397 slugging percentage in 2014 was a career low, and you can bet that he will not reach 14 steals again. Any team willing to hand out a multi-year deal to a 32-year-old second baseman have to be sure his skillset will not diminish. I do not think the Angels can say that right now.
This past season was a sparkling example of what Howie Kendrick is capable of producing. He excelled in all phases of the game, and really impressed executives and fans alike. This is the perfect time to sell high on an aging middle-infielder entering the final year of his contract. Kendrick is one of the better second basemen in the sport, especially offensively, so the return could be quite substantial. Ryan Ritchey did a great job outlining some potential landing spots for the veteran second baseman and the possible returns. Trading Kendrick could bring a quality starting pitcher and a reliever/prospect back, while Freese figures get a relief pitcher or a bottom of the rotation arm.
The final reason that Howie Kendrick makes the most sense to move is possibly the simplest. The Angels have better options to replace Kendrick at second than they do replacing Freese at third. Grant Green and Gordon Beckham both profile better playing up the middle than they do at the hot corner. Green had his moments this past season, and he figures to only get better with more playing time. Beckham is a veteran second baseman, having spent the better parts of the past 5 seasons playing second base for the Chicago White Sox.
Offensively, the Halos project to get a healthy Josh Hamilton back to hit in the middle of the order. This would push Kendrick down in the order, limiting his potential to drive in runs. Losing Kendrick would not be a huge blow to the Angels offensive numbers.
Howie Kendrick is a fan-favorite, and deservingly so, but at this stage of the Angels development, they cannot afford to make decisions with their hearts. Kendrick has been great for the community, and is a genuinely interesting guy. But, at the end of the day the Halos need arms to make it to the fall classic in 2015, and trading Kendrick represents their best chance at checking this need off the list.