Howie Kendrick was a free agent for a while, but he told reporters in West Palm Beach, FL on Tuesday afternoon that there wasn’t ever a time when he thought he wouldn’t be back with Washington after helping the Nationals win the World Series this past October, in his 14th big league campaign.
“I had a good idea I was going to back here,” Kendrick acknowledged. “I didn’t worry about that too much. I had a few teams talking to me this offseason, but the biggest thing for me is this was probably my No. 1 spot. To be able to come back here. I had communication with [GM Mike] Rizzo and he knew how I felt and I knew how the team felt too, so it worked out.”
Kendrick (who earned $4M last season in the second year of a 2-year/$7M contract) got a 1-year/$6.25M deal from the Nats after a 2019 campaign in which he put up a .344/.395/.572 line, 23 doubles, and 17 home runs in 121 games and 370 plate appearances, over which he was worth 2.9 fWAR.
He wrapped up the season with an 18 for 63 (.286/.328/.444) postseason run in which he hit four doubles and two home runs, the second the go-ahead blast in Game 7 of the Series off of Will Harris, who’s a National now (after signing a 3-year/$24M free deal with the club that beat his Houston Astros in the Fall Classic).
What was their first conversation as teammates like? Was it awkward? Of course not.
“He’s a great dude,” Kendrick said.
“We talked in the weight room. We have some mutual friends and that’s about it. I mean, there’s really nothing to really say.”
Harris told reporters after signing this winter that if he was going to give up a big home run on that stage, “there’s no better guy in baseball,” to give it up to than Kendrick.
“If you’re going to give up one that’s the guy to give it up to,” he said, and when he asked around about potential destinations this winter, “... everybody that I talked to had nothing but great things to say about Washington.”
What makes the organization, and the clubhouse in particular, so special, and a draw for players looking for a home?
“Just the mix of veterans and young players and just the attitudes around,” Kendrick said.
“There’s no selfish guys here. And everybody wants to win. There’s a chemistry here that we’ve had since I’ve been here, and a lot of the pieces that are around, guys like [Juan] Soto, [Adam] Eaton, [Trea] Turner, and even the guys, Mike Taylor. We lost [Anthony] Rendon, but we’ve got a lot of other young guys willing to step up too. So, it’s going to be a fun year again.”
Kendrick, who was used carefully by manager Davey Martinez last season, knows he’s not an everyday player anymore, and he said as much last summer, but he said on Tuesday he hadn’t talked with the skipper or Rizzo about how he’ll be used this season, though he said he wasn’t at all concerned.
“I haven’t really talked to Davey, but I’m ready for whatever,” Kendrick said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I don’t ever really complain about much. I’m ready to go whenever he needs me to do something. My biggest thing is trying to stay healthy.”
“We talked a little bit after he signed,” Martinez said this winter, “and asked him how he felt, and he said he felt great and that he really feels like he could probably play a little bit more. So we’ll see. My biggest thing with him is just to get him through the season and keep him healthy.”
Ryan Zimmerman, who shared time at first with Kendrick (and others) when healthy in 2019, figures to do the same after he too tested the free agent market and then returned. He said the way Martinez handled the veteran infielders last season was perfect.
“Howie’s hitting .330-.340 and everyone’s screaming and yelling at Davey,” Zimmerman said, “because they want him to play every day, and Howie would have been the first one to tell you, ‘I can’t play every day.’”
Sharing the time, and trying to keep everyone healthy that way, Zimmerman added, can be beneficial to everyone, especially veterans like himself and Kendrick.
Heading into his 15th season in the majors, Kendrick said he’s excited to get back at it after winning the World Series and enjoying an offseason of reliving the memories.
“That’s the crazy part about it,” he explained, “you get to relive them every time you get to run into somebody you know. They’ll tell me stories about them telling their friends, so I get goosebumps every time I talk to somebody, to be a part of the postseason and that type of way, be a part of this team and to be able to come up with moments like that where you’ve had a few — you made a couple errors or you did some things, but that didn’t define whether we won or not, and to be able to come through for the team and to help the team out I think that was huge, and I’ll always cherish those memories, and it’s been a great ride, and hopefully this year we can try to recreate some of those.”