It’s times like these that I wish there was a statute of limitations on the term “All-Star”.
In what may perhaps be the biggest head-scratcher of the 2007 season, the Chicago Cubs acquired offensively-anemic catcher Jason Kendall from Oakland for fellow catcher Rob Bowen and a minor league pitcher.
Simply put, Kendall’s days as an asset are gone. Out of the 248 hitters who have been regular starters for their respective teams in 2007 (at least 200 plate appearances), Kendall’s .281 slugging percentage ranks 246th. His .261 OBP is 245th. Only Tampa Bay’s Dioner Navarro has a lower OPS among regulars than Kendall’s .542.
The rationale for Oakland making the deal is fairly clear. Although Kendall’s former team, the Pirates, are footing roughly 40% of his $13 million salary this year as per the agreement between the A’s and Bucs when Kendall was traded to Oakland in November 2004, he was still far from earning his keep. Even if the “cash considerations” that is accompanying Jason to Chicago ends up being a significant percentage – or even all – of the remainder of his 2007 salary, it affords the A’s the opportunity to play someone else, most likely, Kurt Suzuki.
But what’s in it for Chicago? While I know very little about Rob Bowen and have never even heard of the minor leaguer (Jerry Blevens) who was included in the deal, is Jason Kendall any kind of upgrade for a team with playoff hopes? Having traded away Michael Barrett to San Diego last month and with Henry Blanco on the DL, the Cubs had been playing Koyie Hill along with Geovany Soto and the now-departed Rob Bowen behind the plate.
Based upon what I have heard previously, Soto in particular had been regarded as the Cubs’ catcher of the future. Prior to getting called up earlier in the week, the 24-year old Soto had been posting some eye-catching numbers in AAA Iowa to the tune of a .341 AVG, .412 OBP and a .584 SLG to go with 12 HRs and 55 RBIs in 69 games. This isn’t better than Jason Kendall?
Yes, Kendall is “proven” and a “former All-Star”. But he’s “proven” to be an aging catcher who can no longer hit and he’s 7 years removed from his last All-Star game. Even among his catcher peers, his numbers are abysmal.
But we hang onto this notion that what was good before can be good again. In today’s Chicago Tribune, Phil Rogers pens his support for the acquisition not based on things like, you know, actual on-field accomplishments, but rather, because a scout likes Kendall. He writes:
“But I say the Cubs will be a better team Tuesday night, with Kendall in uniform, than they were Monday night… That’s because I trust the opinion of their scouts”
As if he hadn’t yet done damage to our belief in his ability to follow logic, “the scout” to whom Rogers is referring is Gary Hughes, a man whose credentials that Rogers lists in the article includes the ability to observe that John Elway – yes, that John Elway – had a good arm. I’m serious. Read the article yourself.
Recalling the conversation that he had had with Hughes regarding Kendall, Cubs GM Jim Hendry told Rogers:
“When I called Gary [last week] and mentioned Kendall, it was, ‘My God, go get him! He’s what every club needs.’ “
Sure. Every club needs a catcher who posts sub-average numbers across the board.
My god indeed.