When asked who the Nationals’ best hitter was this season, most people will say Anthony Rendon. Some might argue for Juan Soto, based on plate discipline and power-enhanced upside. But very few will skip to Howie Kendrick. Perhaps that should be rethought.
If he had enough plate appearances to officially qualify, Kendrick would’ve had the team’s second-highest slugging percentage (.572, just outside of the top 10 in baseball) and the highest batting average in the majors (.344).
That wasn’t based on seeing favorable matchups, either. He recorded a .376/.421/.615 slash line (average, on-base, slugging) against left-handed pitching, while going .327/.381/.548 — what a slacker — against righties.
Oh and by the way, Kendrick was also recently declared the recipient of the Heart & Hustle Award. I still haven’t mentioned the multiple extremely influential home runs he hit in the postseason either.
There are three concerns in regards to Howie: age, post-ruptured Achilles durability, and declining range defensively. Dave Martinez found the ideal remedy, playing him roughly every other day — with considerable time at first base instead of second.
Regardless, he will hit as long as he’s on the field — you can take that to the bank. In 708 plate appearances with the Nationals since late 2017, he batted .322 with an OPS just under .900. That’s after turning 34 years old. The truck still has plenty of mileage — just ask Adam Eaton.
The two teams he’s been most closely linked to are the Marlins and Rays — the two franchises in his home state. Tampa makes sense — the team is competitive, the organization salivates over cheap sluggers, and he could be a part-time designated hitter — but Miami does not, and I’m completely dismissing it as a possibility.
MLB Trade Rumors projected him to the Twins on a two-year, $12 million deal. While Kendrick has insinuated that he’s a year-to-year player now, Minnesota makes a lot of sense on this type of contract. It would be much the same situation as Tampa (minus quite as cheap of a front office), plus he is the epitome of the launch angle and exit velocity movement that the Twins swear by.
Here’s the catch: Howie Kendrick is, has been, and always will be a winner. Dating back to his days with the Angels, it was hard to watch him and not think “Why can’t he be on a better team? He deserves a championship.”
Well, he’s cemented himself on a champion, and I doubt he’s opposed to receiving limited reps on one — he is a self-proclaimed year-to-year player, after all. He also clearly enjoyed this season, which is increasingly important as someone nears the end of their career — a fading love of the game and willingness to accept the daily grind is what forces many players to retire.
Is it crazy to think he might find his way back in Washington? I tend to think it’s more likely than the experts seem willing to believe.