Free-agent infielder Howe Kendrick may be close to parlaying a brilliant 2019 campaign with the World Series-winning Nationals into a contract with a different club. The Rays are the front-runners to sign Kendrick, Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Meanwhile, Cincinnati – another team that has been connected to Kendrick early this offseason – doesn’t seem likely to sign him, a source told Nightengale.
The 36-year-old Kendrick is well-equipped for an American League team like the Rays, with whom he’d be able to primarily serve as a first baseman/designated hitter. He’s also still versatile enough defensively to see time at second and third base. Beyond that, Kendrick’s ability to rake adds to his appeal as a free agent – one who MLBTR predicts will land a two-year, $12MM contract.
Kendrick has been a quality hitter since his career began in 2006, but he’s now on the heels of his best offensive campaign yet. While Kendrick was only a part-time player with the Nationals in 2019, he hit a jaw-dropping .344/.395/.572 with 17 home runs over 370 plate appearances. And Statcast was even more impressed with Kendrick, evidenced by an expected weighted on-base average (.419) that ranked fourth in the majors and outdid a fantastic .400 real wOBA. Once the regular season ended, Kendrick’s heroics carried into the playoffs, where he swatted a pair of home runs (one versus the Dodgers and another against the Astros) that helped the Cinderella Nationals to a championship.
While Kendrick is still clearly capable of helping just about anyone’s offense, Cincy doesn’t look like the best fit for him. The majority of Kendrick’s playing time this season came at first base, where the Reds already have Joey Votto entrenched as their starter. He also saw a decent amount of time at third base, but the Reds are committed to the big-hitting Eugenio Suarez there. Kendrick can also play second, where the Reds don’t have an established starter, though it doesn’t seem he’s a consistent option there at this point in his career. He logged just 23 games at the keystone in 2019.