Watching Howie Kendrick play hero for the world champion Washington Nationals over and over again this fall, one thought came to mind: He would be the ideal fit for the 2020 Cubs.
Professional approach at the plate?
Veteran leader that has a big impact in the clubhouse?
Right-handed hitter that can hammer lefties (a clear weakness for the 2019 Cubs)?
Versatile defender who can play multiple positions?
Check. (In addition to his October, Kendrick also posted a 1.135 OPS in late and close situations in 2019.)
Free agent with an affordable price tag for a team like the Cubs who already have a ton of money committed to the 2020 roster?
It's the last part that may be the biggest concern here, as players coming off big performances in the playoffs tend to get big contracts in free agency (see Kelly, Joe and Eovaldi, Nathan). But Kendrick will be 37 in July and is coming off a 2-year, $7 million deal and has suffered several injuries over the last few years.
Assuming Kendrick is looking for a reasonable deal and doesn't re-sign with the Nationals, it would be a no-brainer for the Cubs to hit up agent Larry Reynolds and chat about making Wrigley Field the veteran's next home.
Right now, the Cubs have a plethora of options they can consider for bench/part-time roles — David Bote, Tony Kemp, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Daniel Descalso, Robel Garcia, Albert Almora Jr.
But for the 2020 team, Kendrick could represent the right-handed version of Ben Zobrist — a professional, veteran hitter with an advanced approach at the plate, positional versatility, clubhouse leadership and a great example for the rest of the lineup on a daily basis.
Kendrick played first base, second base and third base with the Nationals in 2019 and spent time in left and right field in 2017-18. He's not a Gold Glove defender and at his advancing age, it's probably not likely a team would want him to play a corner outfield spot on a regular basis. For the 2020 Cubs, he could be a backup at first base if Anthony Rizzo needs a break or his balky back acts up again, he could play third and push Kris Bryant to the outfield or he could play second and move Nico Hoerner to center field or, at the very least, provide some veteran insurance at the position behind the rookie Hoerner.
Offensively, Kendrick is a perfect fit for the Cubs in several ways. For starters, he struck out just 13.2 percent of the time in 2019 — a figure that would've ranked first among Cubs hitters last year — and his contact rate of 84.3 percent would be a welcome improvement for a lineup that ranked last in baseball in contact last season (73.8 percent). He also leads baseball in batting average since the start of the 2017 season (.325), 4 points ahead of Jose Altuve (.321).
On top of that, Kendrick has experience leading off (.360 OBP in 63 career games there), he can help address the Cubs' woes against southpaws (hit .376 with a 1.036 OPS against lefties in 2019) and the aforementioned clutch gene showed up in a big way in October with the winning home run off the right-field foul pole in Game 7 and a grand slam off Kelly in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS.
As Theo Epstein looks to revamp the Cubs lineup and find a way to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, Kendrick could be an important part of that. There's no guarantee he'd be able to bring the magic of the 2019 Nationals to whichever team he plays for next, but there are worse gambles to take than one on a 14-year MLB veteran with 1,722 career hits who can clearly still play at age 36.
This is all assuming the Nationals would even let him get away, given what they said about him after his World Series-clinching heroics Wednesday night:
"Howie is one hell of a player," Washington GM Mike Rizzo said, according to MLB.com. "He's one of the most professional hitters I've ever been around. He's a key component to our leadership structure here."
"Howie is a true professional," Davey Martinez said. "You see him on the field and what he does. But what he does in that clubhouse with those guys is unbelievable. And you can't replace that. He's been the heart and soul of this team."
Sure, Martinez and Rizzo were euphoric as they made those comments about their World Series hero, but those are certainly fantastic endorsements of Kendrick as not only a player, but also as a person who can lift up those around him within the clubhouse.
Sounds like a perfect fit for what the Cubs are looking for.