SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Matt Klentak, during his three days here for the annual general managers meetings, made it known to rival executives and player agents that the Phillies were open for business — especially if the business was a veteran player owed lots of money on a short-term deal.
The Phillies general manager found a match Friday when he acquired veteran outfielder/infielder Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players — Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney — who were no longer in the Phillies' plans.
This was nothing more than a salary dump for the Dodgers, who sought to jettison the disgruntled Kendrick. He is 33 years old, will earn $10 million in 2017, and is a free agent after the season. He is known as a second baseman but spent most of 2016 in left field, which makes him a perfect fit for the Phillies, who could trade second baseman Cesar Hernandez if the right offer materializes or just stick Kendrick in left field for a measurable offensive improvement.
Klentak said the current plan is for Kendrick to be the everyday left fielder. In the Phillies, the righthanded-hitting Kendrick finds a team willing to regularly play him in a the friendliest offensive ballpark he has ever called home. Kendrick, if he returns to form, could push his way onto a contender in July through another trade.
"There may not be a more professional hitter than Howie Kendrick," Klentak said. "He's the definition of a professional hitter. He's been steady his entire career. He's one of the hardest working guys in the league, and he can hit anywhere in the lineup and be productive.
Manager Pete Mackanin "and I have spoken over the past several months. This is the type of player that we really wanted to add to our lineup. I think Howie is going to have a legitimate impact on our young group."
Both Ruf and Sweeney had an uncertain status in the organization. Ruf, who with a slow start to 2016 was never able to capitalize on strong numbers against lefthanders in 2015, was a likely candidate to be designated for assignment next week. Sweeney, acquired from the Dodgers in the Chase Utley trade, had already been removed from the 40-man roster during the season. Ruf, who is out of options, is 30 and Sweeney turns 26 in February.
Kendrick, as per the contract he signed with Los Angeles, will receive half of his salary ($5 million) in 2017 and the other half on Dec. 15, 2019, according to a source familiar with the deal.
Klentak is familiar with Kendrick during their time together with the Los Angeles Angels. Kendrick slogged through a career-worst season in 2016 when he batted .255 with a .691 OPS. So the Phillies bought low on Kendrick, who becomes the team's highest-paid position player by a sizeable margin, with the hopes that he could recapture his stroke with more frequent at-bats.
Kendrick hit .295 with a .754 OPS from 2013-15. He is a career .289 hitter with a .749 OPS.
"We believe Howie Kendrick is definitely a candidate to have a bounceback year," Klentak said. "A lot of the underlying more advanced statistics would suggest he got a bit unlucky last year. He's still very good at squaring up the baseball and making solid contact."
It will be difficult for Kendrick, if he is in left field, to not represent an upgrade. Phillies left fielders hit .212 with a .615 OPS in 2016. The position was a mediocre mishmash of Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, Aaron Altherr, Jimmy Paredes, David Lough and Cedric Hunter.
Kendrick, at the very least, could remove some pressure from young middle-of-the-lineup hitters like Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph. The veteran may be the only external offensive addition.
"If there's an opportunity that fits what we're trying to do we'll likely explore it," Klentak said. "And, if not, then we won't. But I think our broader goal of making sure that we continue to do everything we can to improve the 2017 club remains. I would expect us to continue to pursue opportunities."