Kendrick motivated by free agency

The Phillies' Kyle Kendrick is on the verge of free agency next season, and other pitchers with his numbers have been getting big contracts.
The Phillies' Kyle Kendrick is on the verge of free agency next season, and other pitchers with his numbers have been getting big contracts. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 02, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - The cut fastball slipped from Kyle Kendrick's right hand. Carlos Ruiz leaped from his crouch to snare it. An audible, "Whoa!" emanated Friday afternoon from the Bright House Field crowd to signal an inauspicious beginning to the most important season of Kendrick's career.

"I don't think I'll walk two guys again this spring," Kendrick later declared.

The 29-year-old righthander is on the precipice of free agency, and he views it as motivation for 2014. A sizable payday awaits Kendrick if he makes 30 starts this season and remains a stable force at the back of the Phillies rotation. The market dictates as such.

"When similar guys close to your numbers sign those deals, that's a good thing," Kendrick said. "It's good for baseball. It's good for guys coming up, a guy like myself, after this year. Obviously you see them and you just want to put up better numbers."

Kendrick knows there is value in a stable mid-rotation pitcher with no history of significant elbow or shoulder ailments. For a 29-start stretch, Kendrick resembled a solid No. 3 starter. His ERA from Aug. 14, 2012 to last season's all-star break was 3.26 in 1872/3 innings. His strikeouts rose with an effective change-up and renewed confidence.

Kendrick, who allowed three runs Friday in a 10-6 Phillies win over Detroit, pitched a career-high 182 innings last season despite missing his final three starts with a tired shoulder. He said the injury contributed to the inflated second-half numbers.

"I was just worn down a little bit, a little tired," Kendrick said.

He altered his strength program this winter to compensate.

The Phillies avoided arbitration by signing Kendrick for $7.7 million in 2014. His total earnings before free agency will be $19 million. He may surpass that with one contract this winter.

Kendrick, who has a career 4.38 ERA in 153 starts, said he is "definitely" pushed by free agency. He monitored the winter transactions.

Jason Vargas, a 31-year-old lefty who owns a 4.30 ERA in 154 career starts, signed for four years and $32 million with Kansas City. Kendrick's agent, Mike Milchin, will undoubtedly use Vargas as a comparison. Both pitchers do not produce high strikeout totals and rely on contact.

There are other similar examples. Scott Feldman, 31, previously bounced between the bullpen and rotation like Kendrick. He signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Houston. Feldman has a 4.62 ERA in 131 major-league starts.

Ricky Nolasco, 31, signed with Minnesota for four years and $49 million. He has a longer track record - 212 career starts - but a similar ERA (4.37). The Twins paid Phil Hughes (4.54 ERA in 132 career starts) $24 million over three years. Hughes, though, does not turn 28 until June.

The Phillies, Kendrick said, did not discuss an extension this winter.

"Obviously, I want to stay here," Kendrick said. "I grew up in this organization. I'm used to it here. I live here. Spring training is here. The organization knows me and I know the organization. I would like to stay here, but we'll cross that bridge when it comes."

The Phillies may look elsewhere, depending on the situation. They could decide to reallocate the money elsewhere. Cole Hamels is signed through 2018. Cliff Lee has one more guaranteed year after 2014 with an option for another. A.J. Burnett could exercise an expensive player option for 2015. They invested $12 million in Miguel Gonzalez. And top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle should be ready to claim a spot by 2015.

Kendrick, entering his 11th year in the organization, plans to savor the process of choosing an employer.

"I would love to stay here," Kendrick said. "As long as they want me, too. I want to go somewhere that wants me."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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