Saturday night the news came out that the Angels had signed Howie Kendrick to a contract extension covering his last remaining arbitration season and then would-have-been free agent seasons from age 28 through 30. The Angels just locked up Kendrick for what should be his peak and they did it for a reported $33.5 million.
That's a little under $9 million per market season (the final season of arbitration is typically valued at 80% of a free agent salary), or a WAR valuable of about two wins given this winter's rates. Kendrick has bested that mark in all but his rookie season even though he was injury limited to 400 or fewer plate appearances (PA) before 2010. Furthermore, Kendrick is coming off a huge 5-win season. This was prime timing for him to cash in and instead he signed for well below what he's worth. That's a bad break for the Mariners.
In looking at Kendrick's numbers, I began formulating my thoughts on a reasonable projection for him. His gaudy 2011 season saw significant gains in two areas; metrics roundly called his defense bad in 2010 then good to great in 2011 and his home run rate per PA literally doubled. I have no visual record to fall back on in judging Kendrick's defense, but I think his UZR is ripe for regression as only golden defenders routinely put up those figures year to year and Kendrick doesn't seem that sort given his history.
On offense, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), walk rate, strikeout rate and gap power rate stayed near his career norms. A career best home run rate boosted his wOBA to career high levels. It's the home run power that I'm a bit more concerned might stick around into 2012 and beyond. Hit Tracker indicates that the average Kendrick home run improved from 394 feet to 403 feet last season and that Kendrick pulled 14 of his 18 home runs last year while just three of ten were in 2010. A hitter learning to leverage pull power more effectively is a reasonable skill development.
Though I anticipate regression in Kendrick's defense and home runs simply by dint of those being career bests last year, I do think that a healthy Howie is a solid bet for three wins with upside and thus Kendrick stands a solid chance of returning $55-60 million in value over the next four seasons. That the Angels will pay out just $33.5 million is annoying.