In the first half of 2016, the Dodgers have really seen their “second baseman” Howie Kendrick step up and be a key to their success as a team.
Howie Kendrick re-signed with the Dodgers on February 4 this year for a two year, $20 million dollar contract. He tested the free agent market, but still found himself calling the Dodgers home at the start of the season. Following last season, Kendrick received a qualifying offer of one year, $15.8 million and declined it. Clearly he was trying to keep his options open, but stayed in LA when other teams stopped calling.
The 33 year old is currently in his eleventh major league season. He joined the club last year and ended up suffering a strained hamstring that had him sidelined in August and truthfully, he seemed to struggle with it on and off all season. As a result, Kendrick played in 117 games for the boys in blue last season, which was his lowest since 2009 with the Los Angeles Angels. He finished the 2015 season hitting .295 with 9 home runs and 54 RBI’s. Overall, it was not his best year, but also not his worst.
This year Kendrick has been the best team player in my opinion. Coming into spring training the Dodgers yet again had a crowded outfield. Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Trayce Thompson were each making their case for a starting role. Kendrick was also battling for a starting spot thanks to veteran Chase Utley who stepped up this year and proved that just because you are 37 does not mean you cannot compete and play the game hard. Who would have guessed that, that crowded outfield would need help? With the injuries to Van Slyke, Ethier and releasing Crawford, the Dodgers desperately needed someone who could play left field and play it well. The past few seasons Crawford did not play the best left field. He had a hard time seeing the ball and a weak arm which only encouraged runners to go for an extra base. New skipper Dave Roberts, asked Kendrick to leave his natural position of second base to play the outfield. Instead of complaining about having to learn a whole new position as a veteran in the league, Kendrick kept his head down, worked hard and learned how to play left. A true class act. Left field was not the only position he was asked to learn. As the season progressed with Justin Turner struggling and coming off of knee surgery, Roberts also had Kendrick play third.
To date in his career, Kendrick has played 1,091 games at second base. He now has 65 starts in left field. Jack Baer of MLB.com interviewed Roberts about the situation early this April.
"“I think, perfect world, we would have got him more repetitions this spring, but we can’t anticipate how the season’s going to play out,” Roberts said. “So losing [Andre Ethier] and [Scott Van Slyke] this early, for us, the way Chase is playing, we want to keep him in the lineup, and also it’s a way to add length to our lineup by having Howie in there. That’s stuff he and I talked about the first day he re-signed, about being open to it.”"
Kendrick’s willingness to play a position he had not started at since 2011, shows his selflessness for the team. Some veterans out there would feel entitled to play their own position or throw a pity party. Kendrick simply was willing to do anything Roberts asked of him.
So far this season, Kendrick has made 31 starts in left, 18 starts at second, 10 starts at third, five starts at first and one as a designated hitter in 78 games. In the first half this season, Kendrick has a BA of .254 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI’s. He has not really had a “hot streak” so far this year, but before the All-Star break began, he seemed to be on the rise offensively. The Dodgers last game Kendrick played in before the break was July 10 and he went 3-4 at the plate, scoring a run and tacking on another RBI.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times also wrote about Kendrick and his ability to roll with the punches. In an interview he addressed Kendrick’s run saving catches in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.
"“I’m an outfielder, man,” Kendrick joked, when asked about his diving catches in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. “You know what, I’m always going to see myself as an infielder. Outfield is just something that’s happened this year. I haven’t really talked about it. I just go out and play.”"
Kendrick does not even want to talk about the transition, but simply wants to play. I think when the free agent market was not all he hoped it would be this past offseason, that Kendrick really realized his passion for the game. Clearly his priorities and goals are not for selfish accolades, but just helping the team get a win each and every day.
His ability to play so many different positions from day to day have saved the Dodgers from having to pursue another outfielder or player in the process. In the past the Dodgers would have had to overpay for a player like Ryan Braun just to get out of the jam.
Kendrick’s humble attitude, athletic ability and team spirit have been key to the Dodgers success on the field. He is setting a great example for new guys on the team and proving that even a veteran can become a utility player and do it with grace. No matter what position or place in the lineup Roberts has his for the day, there is no doubt about it, he has been a difference maker all year.