With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.
Is Howie Kendrick the answer to the Cubs’ search for improved second base production in 2020?
The Cubs struggled to replace Ben Zobrist last season during his four-month stint on the restricted list. Six Cubs started at least 10 games at second base, posting a combined .220/.301/.383 (.684 OPS) slash line — all team lows from position players. League-wide, Cubs second basemen ranked 28th in average and 21st in OPS.
Those numbers would’ve been better with a full season of Zobrist, who proved he has something left in the tank after returning to the Cubs in September. However, he’s 38 years old, a free agent and mulling retirement. He and the Cubs could seek a reunion, but his status for 2020 is uncertain.
Kendrick is 36 and coming off a stellar 2019 with the Nationals in which he posted a .344/.395/.572 (.966 OPS) slash line in 121 games/334 at-bats. Those numbers are even better against lefties — .376/.421/.615 (1.036 OPS) — an area the Cubs — .239/.322/.428 (.750 OPS) — struggled in 2019.
Besides his ability to mash southpaws, Kendrick provides a professional at-bat; he made contact at an 84.3 percent clip in 2019 and struck out just 13.2 percent of the time. For comparison, Zobrist made contact at an 85 percent clip and struck out 13.6 percent of the time, both solid figures. The Cubs finished last in baseball in contact rate last season (73.8 percent), missing Zobrist's ability to move the ball around the diamond during his absence. Kendrick would provide a Zobrist-esque presence in the Cubs lineup.
Kendrick is a versatile defender who played first, second and third base for Washington last season. He's not an everyday player anymore, and Cubs top prospect Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of the team in 2020 — likely at second, with Javier Baez manning shortstop. But Kendrick would provide the Cubs with a stable veteran behind Hoerner, the latter of whom can also play center field. Playing Kendrick at third would mean moving Kris Bryant to the outfield, which Bryant is no stranger to doing. Doing so to get Kendrick’s bat in the lineup would be a plus for the Cubs offensively.
Kendrick signed a two-year, $7 million contract with Washington ahead of the 2018 season. He comes with an affordable price tag this offseason, key for a Cubs team that has payroll constraints once again.
Free agents such as Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg aren’t realistic targets for the Cubs, barring any significant moves to shed payroll. Kendrick is a different story, and his versatility would help the Cubs in many ways.
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