Howie Kendrick Comments on MLB Free-Agent System

Mike NorrisFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

October 9, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) reacts after reaching second on a double in the eighth inning against the New York Mets in game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Howie Kendrick spent 2015 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, slashing .295/.336/.409 with nine home runs and 54 RBI, then hit the free-agent market for the first time in his 10-year career.

He was excited for the opportunity, but with just two weeks left before pitchers and catchers report, Kendrick was without a team and frustrated, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

“Nothing," Kendrick said. “I figured there would be quite a few suitors for me, and nobody was really calling. Here it is, getting close to spring training, and you keep hearing the same thing over and over. Nobody wanted to give up that draft pick. It was a shocker."

Other than the Dodgers, any team would have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Kendrick, 32, because he turned down a qualifying offer at the end of the season. No other team bit, so Kendrick re-signed with Los Angeles for two years and $20 million. Per Nightengale, the deal also includes two years of deferrals, meaning he will receive $5 million per year for the next four years.

It's an amazing deal for the Dodgers, not only because Kendrick has been one of the most productive second basemen in baseball for the past six or seven years but also because the offer Kendrick turned down at the end of the season was worth $15.8 million in 2016.

According to Nightengale, Kendrick was not happy with the process.

"When you get to free agency, you’re supposed to be a free agent," Kendrick said. “Now, with this qualifying offer, teams are trying to decide: Do I make my major league team better or minor league system better?"

Howie Kendrick Career Stats
YearTeamGPBAHRRBISBOBPSLG
2006Los Angeles Angels72.2854306.314.416
2007Los Angeles Angels88.3225395.347.450
2008Los Angeles Angels92.30633711.333.421
2009Los Angeles Angels105.291106111.334.444
2010Los Angeles Angels158.279107514.313.407
2011Los Angeles Angels140.285186314.338.464
2012Los Angeles Angels147.28786714.325.400
2013Los Angeles Angels122.29713546.335.439
2014Los Angeles Angels157.29377514.347.397
2015Los Angeles Dodgers117.2959546.336.409
Totals1198.29387555101.333.423
Baseball-Reference.com

Kendrick's agent, 32-year veteran Larry Reynolds, said he and his client discussed the possibility the qualifying offer could hinder the process but did not think it would completely derail it, per Nightengale.

“I’ve never seen anything like it," he said. "Without question, this was the most challenging free-agent process that I’ve been involved in. The teams are placing a very high value on draft picks, and this contributed to the limited market for Howie, and it looks like some of the others are having the same challenges."

Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart said he had interest in Kendrick but wanted to hold on to his draft pick. Nightengale feels the system is flawed:

Come on, we’re talking about the 39th pick in the draft.

If that pick turns out to produce half the career as Kendrick, the D'backs will be skinny-dipping in their center-field swimming pool.

After all, most draft picks - particularly those beyond the first dozen or so - are largely a crapshoot. And the obsession over picks to the point of impacting the current major league roster has gone too far.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist was able to sign a four-year, $56 million contract with the Chicago Cubs in December because he did not have a qualifying offer attached to him after being traded midseason. On the other hand, free-agent pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who turned down a qualifying offer, remains unsigned. The two players' agent, Scott Pucino, said he knows why, per Nightengale:

He’s probably signed by now if not for the draft pick attached to him. Having a draft pick on you is such a strain. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the next CBA.

It’s a new trend. Instead of signing a free agent, teams are trying to build from within. What I don’t understand is that these guys are already proven. They’re almost a sure thing. When you draft a player, even in the first round, only a small percentage of them get to the big leagues, and staying in the big leagues is even more tougher.

Not much can be done for Kendrick now, but he hopes the CBA rules change to protect future players, according to Nightengale.

“It’s not about one person, but all of us as a whole," Kendrick said. “Hopefully, when the next wave of players come up, it won’t be like that. It will be completely different."