The one real bit of news that the Red Sox have given us since the start of the offseason — other than changes to their coaching staff, I suppose — was the surgery undergone by Dustin Pedroia and the fact that he’ll miss the start of the season. It’s still unclear when he’ll return, though it’s possible he’ll only miss about six weeks. Given the severity of the injury combined with his age, I’d venture to guess we’re not looking at the best-case scenario though. Either way, the Red Sox need to find a stopgap at second base in the meantime. Although there are some intriguing free agents available, Boston has maintained that they will stick with their internal options including Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. Each of them have their strong points, but the upside is limited all around and there isn’t much of a track record between the four of them. Amid the internal options, there is one free agent that continues to make more and more sense the more I consider him.
If you read the headline, which I would assume you did because why else are you reading this, you know I’m talking about Howie Kendrick. The veteran infielder has long been one of the more solid and underrated players in the league. Granted, he’s never really been a star, but for a long time he was tucked away at second base for the Angels and consistently putting up strong numbers. Since then, he’s spent the back nine of his career with the Dodgers, Nationals and Phillies and is now looking for the next chapter of his career. While he’s a long time second baseman, he’s turned into something of a utility player with the ability to play outfield as well. All of this makes him a perfect fit for Boston.
His offensive skillset is and always has been the most intriguing part of his game. Though he’s played a position known for its glovework, Kendrick has quietly been one of the better pure hitters in the game. He’s regularly posted batting averages around .300, and while we know that’s not the best measure of offense it does say plenty about his pure ability to hit. This past year he only played in 91 games and accrued just 334 plate appearances, but he did play quite well hitting .315/.368/.475 for a 121 wRC+. It needs to be mentioned that this was inflated by a .378 batting average on balls in play, but even regression in that area should leave him as an above-average bat. Defensively, he’s not going to win any Gold Gloves at second base or in the outfield, but he can certainly handle the position at second base and can be put in left field without issue for the Red Sox.
It’s that fit with Boston that makes Kendrick such an intriguing piece. As I’ve mentioned, for the start of the year he would presumably be the primary option to replace Pedroia at second base. I do like some of the other options available — Hernandez in particular — but Kendrick is a more proven player than any of them and has also produced more recently. Once Pedroia does come back, and even part of the time while Pedroia is on the shelf, Kendrick could serve as a backup outfielder and insurance against Bryce Brentz not playing up to expectations. Kendrick, like Brentz, is a strong fit to counter this outfield as he hits from the right side and would be an ideal fit to give Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. days off against some tougher left-handed pitching. Last season, Kendrick was 37 percent better than the league-average hitter against lefties and has been 12 percent better over the course of his career. He also has first base experience, giving them a non-Sam Travis insurance option in the event that Hanley Ramirez is forced back to the field on an everyday basis. Kendrick allows the Red Sox to kill multiple birds with one stone, and presumably he won’t cost much of anything in terms of contract.
The biggest issue with this potential move is how Kendrick would be fit onto the Red Sox roster. While he is the best option, the Red Sox wouldn’t be able to move many pieces around given how many of them are without options. Right now, the bench is made up of Hernandez, Holt, Marrero, Brentz and whoever is the backup catcher with Sam Travis also looming in the likely event that a new first baseman or designated hitter is brought in. One of those players would be slotted in as the second baseman, but there are still likely two players who would need to be moved off the active roster to make room for Kendrick and a first base signing. The easy answer would be demote Travis and Hernandez since both still have minor-league options remaining while the others don’t. I wouldn’t feel overly comfortable optioning Hernandez to start the year, though preserving depth is important. Whether that’s the move or they find a way to either trade or designated Brock Holt or Deven Marrero for assignment, room can be made fairly easily.
At the end of the day this isn’t really a move I anticipate the Red Sox making this winter, though it’s something they should take a long look at. Kendrick is a proven veteran hitter who should be had on a cheap contract and fills three holes the Red Sox could be looking to address this winter. Between his ability to play second base, first base and corner outfield along with the fact that he swings from the right side, he’s a nearly perfect fit for Boston. He certainly isn’t my idea of a headliner for the winter, but in terms of depth moves it doesn’t really get better than Kendrick for the Red Sox.