Thursday, December 02, 2004

Be Wary of Jason Kendall

The A's traded spare parts in pitchers, Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes to acquire the Pirates rugged-faced catcher, Jason Kendall, last week.

My complaint with some of Billy Beane's acquisitions is that he never seems to acquire what I refer to as "Men". Players who play the game aggressively, get their uniform dirty and create a fiery atmosphere on the diamond. Boston has a load of these players. Guys like Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and Kevin Millar and look what happened to the BoSox.

It isn't always about finances because none of these players mentioned command large salaries or are really all-stars caliber performers. Beane definitely added a large dose of grit to the 2005 A's with this deal.

Last season, Beane brought in some "Men" to the A's roster. Mark Kotsay and Damian Miller. Alas, the year that "Men" populated the roster was also the year the A's failed to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. What do I know.

Our friends at AthleticsNation.com are falling over the idea of Kendall in green and gold, I think we should be wary of this type of praise for a guy who is never mentioned as one of the game's best catchers.

Regardless of what others think, you can pencil Kendall at the top of the order followed by Mark Kotsay. Kotsay has indicated that he feels more comfortable batting second.

It is true that Kendall will get himself on base at a high rate, while he isn't the most accomplished baserunner since hurting his ankle in 1999, he isn't required to tear up the basepaths in Oakland's inexact philosophy of station-to-station baseball.

Kendall's positives:
>>Good, spray-hitting contact hitter
>>High OBP
>>Hits consistently against LHP/RHP, Home/Away and 1st/2nd half of the season.
>>Strikes out infrequently
>>Overall, he should improve playing on a winner.
>>He's a "Man"

Kendall's negatives:
>>Average signal-caller
>>Average defensively
>>Catching duties beginning to erode once stellar basespeed
>>Trades power for contact
>>Might make a cute couple with Barry Zito

Many are focusing on the added offense that Kendall might bring to the A's, but last season's squad had few problems scoring runs and actually hit for the highest team average in Oakland history. Kendall average defensive abilities might be problematic over a long season.

I was never a huge fan of Ramon Hernandez. I saw him as the epitome of the feeble-minded A's that squandered playoff chances four straight years. You need your best baseball mind behind the plate. The catcher controls the game. Will Kendall, like Hernandez, be throwing outrageously wild throws to second at the most inopportune time or will his mental breakdowns be more subtle like that of the outgoing catcher, Damian Miller.

As for calling pitches, Kendall worries me again. Many faulted the decline of the A's pitching on pitching coach, Curt Young. The pitchers were very familiar with Young since he was a roving minor league instructor for the A's. They didn't know Damian Miller.

Overall, the key to maximizing Kendall might lie in whether Kotsay can replicate his stellar 2004 season. Both are similar players and should compliment each other at the top of the order. My gut says that Kotsay had a career year at the plate, but his near-Gold Glove worthy patrol of centerfied will still benefit the A's.

Let's not get too excited about Kendall. We need more heft in the middle of the order. Besides, he's been under the radar to many fans, so many have a limited knowledge of him. He's also been on the trading block in Pittsburgh for over two years. Lastly, Beane acquired him for two chumps and a six-pack of Molson.

I will cringe if someone coins the nickname, "J-Ken".

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