Howie Kendrick Trade: Dodgers Win Now, Angels Win Later?
The Angels shipped long-time second baseman Howie Kendrick to their up-freeway rivals, breaking up one of the longest-tenured double-play combinations in baseball and getting Andrew Heaney, a young, controllable rotation arm for the future.
What does it mean, though, for both teams in Los Angeles?
Let's take a look.
Why the Dodgers needed Kendrick
This move looks confusing on the surface, as the Dodgers appeared to have second base figured out in the person of Dee Gordon. New Dodger brass elected to sell high on Gordon, who terrorized opponent with 64 stolen bases but posted a .312 wOBA and 101 weighted runs created (wRC+), right at league average.
The win-now Dodgers know what they’ll get out of the consistent Kendrick (his batting average has been between .279 and .297 each of the last six years). Retaining Gordon, on the other hand, meant risking the possibility that the youngster regresses in 2015. He hit .234 in 2013 before jumping to .289 last year. Kendrick is a free agent at the end of the season, meaning the Dodgers can choose to retain him or turn over the second-base job to a youngster (Cuban Alexander Guerrero hit .329 in AAA and bit off part of someone’s ear in 2014, while Justin Turner hit well in a reserve role and fellow Cuban Erisbel Arruebarrena may also be an option).
Perhaps Enrique Hernandez, acquired from the Marlins in exchange for Dee Gordon, is the long-term answer up the middle. Long-term is not the Dodgers’ concern with this trade, however. They know what they’ll get out of their second baseman next season, and that’s important for them as a contender.
Why the Angels could trade Kendrick
It’s your turn for some explaining, Jerry DiPoto. It will be hard for the Angels to replace Kendrick’s production at second base in the short-term, but the Halos believe their second baseman of the future is moving up their minor league system. Ole Miss grad Alex Yarbrough hit .285 in AA last season, after posting a .313 average in 2013 at high A. He could be ready for the big leagues by 2016, meaning the Angels only need to fill a hole at second base for a year.
Given the number of ginormous contracts the team will be paying out (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Wilson come to mind), it makes sense that team would opt to give a prospect a shot at second and not re-sign Kendrick. If that’s the end-game, why not trade Kendrick’s expiring contract and get some value back for him? DiPoto thinks the Angels can survive with less talented offensive second basemen Josh Rutledge, Grant Green, and Gordon Beckham (if he re-signs) until Yarbrough is ready.
This plan might work but requires Josh Hamilton to stay healthy and perform more like 2012 Josh Hamilton (.387 WOBA, 141 wRC+) and less like 2014 Josh Hamilton (.325 WOBA, 113 wRC+, missing time with injuries). If the group of light-hitting youngsters can’t shoulder the load and/or Hamilton gets hurt again, DiPoto could trade some of his ever-growing stockpile of young arms for a veteran second baseman (Ben Zobrist and Daniel Murphy come to mind).
Why the Angels needed Heaney
This is part of DiPoto’s long-term plan to stock up the farm system with pitching depth, which the Angels suddenly discovered they needed when Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs missed significant time at the end of last season. In addition to the Richards and Skaggs injuries (neither is expected back by opening day, and Skaggs should miss all of 2015 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery), veteran starters Jered Weaver and C>j> Wilson are declining, and both become free agents after the 2016 season.
Weaver’s velocity has declined in recent years, and while he is still able to out-smart hitters, his 4.43 FIP last season was the highest of his career, as was his 8.9% homer-to-fly-ball ratio. After four straight 200+ inning seasons, Wilson missed some time last season with various injuries and only reached 175 innings. His 4.35 walks per nine innings from last season are his highest as a big league starter, as is last year’s 4.31 FIP. If that’s where these two veterans are now, it’s hard to imagine the Angels wanting to bring either back to start the 2017 season.
However, after acquiring Heaney, the Halos’ 2017 rotation looks pretty formidable - if everyone stays healthy and prospects develop. Richards and Skaggs would be joined by Heaney, last year’s breakout super-sub Matt Shoemaker, and Nick Tropeano, a righty who struck out 120 in 124 innings for the Astros’ AAA affiliate last season whom the Angels acquired for Hank Conger.
How good is Heaney? In 2013, the southpaw from Oklahoma State struck out 89 in 95 innings between A and AA, posting a 1.60 ERA an a 1.070 WHIP. Last season, Heaney’s ERA and WHIP rose a bit (to 3.28 and 1.136, respectively), but he also struck out 143 batters in 147 innings. He is under club control until 2021 and could be a huge part of the Angels rotation for years to come.
Why the Dodgers could trade Heaney
They never really had him to begin with, especially if you consider the Gordon trade as part of the Kendrick trade, the Dodgers eventually traded Gordon and Dan Haren’s contract to Miami, getting back a few prospects and Kendrick. And why would the win-now Dodgers wait for Heaney to develop when they could just sign Brandon McCarthy, who they know exactly what they’re going to get from? Since returning from Tommy John surgery, the righty has not had a single season with a FIP above 3.76, and his 2.86 FIP with Oakland in 2011 led the league. Heaney is a top prospect, but he posted a 5.45 FIP in 29 big-league innings last year. The Dodgers don’t have time to wait for Heaney to develop, but the Angels do.
The Dodgers got better in the short-term, in a sense trading two youngsters (Gordon and Heaney) for two veterans (Kendrick and the ability to sign McCarthy). The Angels may have weakened themselves offensively in the short-run, but they added controllable, long-run pitching depth they desperately needed.