There is little argument that Kendrick has been one of the most mystifying and frustrating players on the Phillies since he came up in 2007. He has had many roles from a promising rookie, to a middle reliever, to a long man, to a 5th starter, to minor leaguer, to rotation anchor. The last role is the reason we are interested in Kendrick right now. He has been the Phillies best and most consistent pitcher to this point. He is not the best pitcher on the staff as both Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have better stuff and track records, Kendrick has been the most consistent starter on the staff. And so we come to the biggest question where do we go from here.
Is This Legitimate?
Yes, this is one of the rare instances where a player has completely changed their profile. When Kendrick came up to the majors he was fastball, slider, changeup and all were kind of average pitches. At some point he lost feel for the slider and was purely fastball changeup. At this point Kendrick was essentially walking and striking out no one and everything was in play. The first big change came in 2010 where Kendrick revamped his slider as a cutter and got more downward movement on his fastball turning it into a real sinker. Over the next two years Kendrick became over reliant on the cutter and it became a real weakness at times. In 2012, Kendrick broke camp with a newly reworked changeup and over the course of the year he became less reliant on the cutter and became more sinker/changeup. About the time he moved to the starting rotation Kendrick had nearly doubled the amount of changeups thrown and cut the cutter use in half. At this point his fastball has average to slightly below velocity but good downward groundball generating movement, his changeup is a plus pitch that misses bats, and the cutter is a third pitch that helps give him a different look.
In addition to the raw stuff Kendrick has adhered to the number 1 rule for right handed pitchers without premium velocity, he has not walked batters. In the second half of 2012 he had a 2.2 BB/9 and in 2013 he has lowered that to 1.6 BB/9. The use of the changeup has allowed him to keep the walk rate down but also bring his strikeout rate above 6 K/9 almost two strikeouts about his career average. For the most part because of the sinker Kendrick has kept the homerun rate down as well. Any pitcher who walks almost no one, generates ground balls, strikes out a decent number of batters, and keeps it in the ball park is going to have continued success.
So What is it Going to Cost:
Kendrick has just over 4 years of service time currently and will hit free agency after the 2014 season. He was Super Two so he will has been arb eligible 4 times, however two of those years were covered by a much ridiculed contract for 2yr $7.5 million. Given his current $4.5 million salary Kendrick should make about 8-9 million before hitting free agency at age 29.
The closest comparables to hit free agency are probably Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse. They both got $13 mil/yr on different length deals. Given inflation expect Kendricks contract to be anywhere from 12-15 mil a year depending on the market and any qualifying offer. Given that he will be 29 it is likely that the deal will be at least 4 yrs. So lets conservatively call it the Edwin Jackson contract at 4yrs $52 million.
What to do?
If you are going to trade Kendrick, the best time is this summer where a team will be paying for a year and a half of service. This should net a prospect in the back end of the Top 100 and possibly a another fringe piece. The value might be higher than anyone on the team and could give you a legitimate piece for rebuilding (not a building block but at least a regular somewhere). Additionally, between Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan, Ethan Martin, and Jesse Biddle you should have a rotation replacement ready by at least summer 2014.
Ride It Out and Give the Qualifying Offer:
If you aren't sure on Kendrick but don't want to lose his pitching value you hang onto him into free agency. If his value stays the same it is likely prudent to give him a qualifying offer to get draft pick compensation. Going this route means you will likely have to pay market rate for Kendrick but you get the longest time to evaluate before making a decision. The problem with this route is that if he continues to improve you might lose him for just draft pick compensation (his value now is more than that).
Sign him to an Extension:
The facts tell us that Kendrick has made real improvements and he has been durable over his career. It might be best to sign him to a 5 year extension (1 arb + 4 FA) that will give him a larger raise in 2014 then he would expect to receive and lessen the burden over the remaining years. The hope is that you get a deal much more favorable than risking free agency. The problem of course is that you chose wrong and you now have another large contract on your hands. Kendrick is young enough that while you will be locking up some decline years you will still be buying very productive years of service.
The big question is, do you cash in your biggest chip now or do you hold on to him with the hopes that he helps build the core of your next contending team.