Howie Kendrick’s new two-year, $20 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers has about half of the money deferred, a fact that was not lost on those questioning club president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman on Thursday about the signing.
The Kendrick deal, reported last weekend and made official Thursday, comes just over a month after Scott Kazmir signed a three-year, $48 million contract with the Dodgers that was deferred out to 2021. That deal essentially will pay Kazmir $8 million a year over six years for those three years of his services.
For a Dodgers club that had a league-high $271 million in contract commitments on Opening Day 2015, it appears to mark a change in the business plan.
Asked Thursday if there are any cash-flow problems, Friedman retorted: “Personally?” All kidding aside, when asked if the team’s finances are in a different spot than they were a year ago, Friedman’s one-word retort was a stern “no.”
So what was the strategy behind structuring at least two deals this offseason?
“I think any time you spread out money, it’s helpful when you talk about commitments over a long period of time,” Friedman said. “Sometimes in negotiations you are able to do some; sometimes you’re not. When you’re not, it’s reflected in total value. So I think it’s just figuring out different points that are important and work for both sides and trying to figure out how to line up and reach an agreement. I think each negotiation takes on its own life form and this is the one we ultimately settled on that works well for both sides.”
For the Dodgers, the deal works because the $20 million is less than what it was presumed to take in order to keep Kendrick. For Kendrick, the deal keeps him on a projected playoff-caliber team and in Southern California, where he's played for a decade since breaking in with the Angels in 2006.
Because teams had to weigh the price of losing a draft pick in order to add Kendrick, his signability wasn’t as high as it would have been without the pick attached. In the end it led him back to the Dodgers, a team with whom he posted a .295 batting average for last season, including a .335 batting average with runners in scoring position.
“We obviously liked Howie a lot from the standpoint of what he brought both on the field and off the field, and Howie also loved playing here,” said Friedman, who is getting back a player that has a career .316 batting average in 79 games at Dodger Stadium. “I think that allowed the dialogue to continue, and as we got into January and talked to Howie, he expressed an openness, a willingness to play different spots, which just adds to the versatility of our roster.”
While Kendrick figures to be the Dodgers’ primary second baseman, he could see time at third base in order to get playing time for guys like Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez. Playing third base on occasion would also help ease Justin Turner back into action after the October microfracture surgery on his left knee.
“If you look at it, there are 1,300-1,400 plate appearances between those two spots (second base and third base),” Friedman said. “Even when everybody’s healthy, there is a lot of playing time to go around. And all it takes is one injury. We don’t know when it will happen or who it will happen to, but invariably it tends to happen over the course of a season and the depth we have on hand is something that was really attractive to us.”
Spreading a two-year deal out over four years was obviously attractive as well.
As for where Kendrick might bat in a Dodgers’ lineup that is void of a prototypical leadoff man, Kendrick could end up in the top spot, but the club wasn’t committing to anything just yet.
“My guess is that we will spend more time in spring training talking about [the lineup],” Friedman said. “We feel like the length of our lineup will be a strength of ours in terms of one through eight. We feel the depth of our roster will be a strength of ours. In terms of the exact lineup configuration, that will probably be more of a topic of conversation in spring training.”