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Dodgers get a great deal on Howie Kendrick, still don't need him

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It's pretty hard to argue that 2 years/$20 million is anything but a steal for a player of Howie Kendrick's caliber. But why did the Dodgers want him in the first place?

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Salesman in the mall: "Excuse me sir, but could I interest you in a 55'' TV?"

Unsuspecting mall-goer: "Thanks, but no thanks. I already have two halves of a TV that I was planning on putting together to form a somewhat-functional 50'' TV to use for the next year or so."

Salesman: "Ah, but I know that the left half of your TV always seems to break, and is also hated across the country because it broke another unsuspecting TV last October. Meanwhile, the right half of your TV is quite an unproven model (and enjoys showing bananas). No one seems to be interested in buying my TV at the moment. We can really help each other out here. I know you rented this TV last year, and it was quite comfortable in your home, so I'll make you a good deal. Take it off my hands for 20 bucks."

Mall-goer: "B-but, but...I just said I have a TV."

Salesman: "Good, good! Looks like we're all settled then! Here's the paperwork."

Mall-goer: "Um, okay then."

This is most likely how the Howie Kendrick negotiations went down. Or, something. The point of this was to illustrate both that the Dodgers got Kendrick for a great deal and that, well, they don't really need him.

First, here are the details about the contract. The Dodgers signed him for two years and $20 million in total outlay. He also turned down a qualifying offer from the Dodgers earlier in the offseason, and while you may read that the Dodgers are the only team that could sign him without surrendering a pick, that's not entirely true.

Had Kendrick signed with another team before the June draft, the signing team would've relinquished a pick and the Dodgers would've gained a compensatory pick, no matter which other team signed him. Therefore, it was almost assured that the Dodgers would receive a pick from letting him walk, and they chose to forego that opportunity cost by signing him. Of course, there was also the chance that Kendrick would decide to wait until after the draft to sign, in which case the Dodgers would get no additional pick.

TL;DR: When evaluating this deal, we find that the cost was less than 2/$20 million and the full value of a compensatory pick, but more than just 2/$20 million.

Howie Kendrick, as a player, is not hard to quantify. It isn't a Dave Stewart-level hot take to call Howie the most consistent hitter in baseball:

Year AVG BABIP GB% OBP wOBA wRC+
2011 .285 .338 51.6 .338 .349 123
2012 .287 .347 58.6 .325 .316 103
2013 .297 .340 51.3 .335 .336 117
2014 .293 .347 60.0 .347 .328 115
2015 .295 .342 58.7 .336 .325 109

Kendrick has been in the league long enough and refined his approach at the plate consistently enough that one could call his high batting average a skill. His strikeout rate has held stable, and he consistently hits the ball hard and on the ground, which allows him to control his BABIP and keep his average around the steady .290ish area that it has been for many years.

Remember, batting average isn't as important as OBP, but it isn't nothing. With all things being equal, an OBP with a high average is better than the same OBP with a low average. Plus, a consistently high batting average puts a high floor on a player's OBP. Kendrick is a player who will produce around 10 percent better than the league average at the plate, which is quite useful from the keystone position. Kendrick also hasn't shown any major positive or negative trends in recent years that would suggest he'd be any different of a hitter for the following two seasons.

The defensive side of the picture isn't quite as pretty for Kendrick. After years of consistently high marks from defensive metrics, most of the metrics, across the board, agreed that Kendrick took a step back on defense in 2015 and was actually below average. This could easily be a blip on the defensive radar, a one-year small sample size fluke. But it is worrying that, as a player turning 33 next season, Kendrick could be beginning to decline defensively.

Using $7 million per WAR as a conservative estimate for the current going rate of a win on the open market, especially for a team at the top of the winning curve, Kendrick only has to produce about 3 WAR for the deal to be "worth it". Kendrick was worth at least 2.6 WAR every year from 2011-2014, and his 2.1 WAR last season was actually a 2.7 WAR/150, even with the slippage in defense. In other words, if Kendrick stays healthy and gets enough playing time, Kendrick could easily exceed the value of the deal, with a decent chance at doubling it. In a vacuum, this is a great contract for the Dodgers.

However, the Dodgers don't play baseball in a vacuum. (Thankfully so, because vacuums aren't the most conducive venues for baseball, anyways.) They already have Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez as options at second base, and though Hernandez could play the outfield, the Dodgers' outfield is even more crowded than the infield. The only area needing depth for the Dodgers is the left side of the infield, and the Kendrick signing doesn't do much to alleviate that. Kendrick has played all of six innings at third base in his career, and that was 10 years ago. He's never played shortstop in the Major Leagues. Utley isn't much of an option at either of those positions either, so unless one of the two becomes much more versatile between now and Opening Day, second base has effectively turned into a timeshare between Kendrick and Utley next season.

Of course, depth is always good. Injuries happen. Players randomly sucking happens. Baseball happens. Howie Kendrick is undeniably a quality player that will upgrade any roster, and he was had on a contract much lower than his real value. The only oddity is why the Dodgers were the team to give him that contract.

. . .

Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond The Box Score.