If your club is in need of some veteran middle infield talent, the market begins with two names: Ian Desmond and Howie Kendrick. The former is a shortstop and the latter a second baseman, and neither has really spent much big league time at other positions, so they aren’t exactly direct competitors. But it’s still interesting to consider which qualifying offer-bound free agent is best situated to cash in at this stage of the winter.
It long seemed like Desmond would be the more hotly pursued of the two players. He offers a rare power/speed combination for a shortstop and has been one of the game’s most valuable players at the position — including a .264/.317/.443 slash and over twenty home runs per season — since breaking out in 2012.
Desmond is also a more valuable defender than most realize. He’s received average metrics, give or take, with his strong range and powerful arm helping to make up for a steady helping of errors. And Desmond is not only a solid stolen base threat, but a highly-rated overall baserunner.
At 30 years of age, the highly-respected Desmond seems well-situated to cash in. There’s no denying that 2015 was a down year. After rating as a 3.5 to 4.5 WAR player for each of the three prior seasons, Desmond accumulated just 2.0 rWAR and 1.7 fWAR as he struggled at the plate and in the field. On the other hand, that doesn’t look like a terrible downside scenario, and the highly athletic veteran ought to age well physically. I predicted he’d have to settle for $70MM to secure a fifth guaranteed year, while MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes felt he could reach $80MM over that term.
Kendrick is a bit older at 32, and plays the less valuable position defensively. But if Desmond feels like a player whose upside comes with some risk, then Kendrick seems to be a steadier option — at least at the plate.
While he’s never put up a monster offensive season, Kendrick owns a .289/.332/.418 slash since becoming a full-time regular in 2010. And he’s never strayed too far from that line: Kendrick has been a more-or-less league-average or better hitter in each of the last nine seasons. While he’s more of a 10/10 than a 20/20 type, he has topped out at 18 home runs and 14 stolen bases.
Kendrick has generally been a steady defender, with most of his campaigns ending in the black in the estimation of UZR and DRS, though he did slip in that regard last year. His baserunning isn’t an asset, overall, but isn’t a hindrance either.
In the aggregate, Kendrick offers reasonable expectations of being a quality, first-division regular. And when the stars have aligned, as in 2011 and 2014, he’s been even more than that. He ended 2015 with injury issues, and while they don’t figure to linger, that did seem to take some momentum out of his market. Dierkes predicted that Kendrick would be able to score four years and $50MM on the open market.
As always, demand is critical. We’ve heard varying degrees of interest from various clubs in both players. But clearly, neither has been targeted as strongly as might have been hoped. Then again, while there’s always a danger for a player of the music stopping with no chairs left, both Desmond and Kendrick seem to have plausible landing spots. The question, though, is how much leverage they’ll have to command the deals that were originally expected.
So, which player do you think is the more valuable free agent asset as things stand in the market?