With less than a week remaining until the mandatory reporting date for spring training, the St. Louis Cardinals made a final acknowledgment of their inability to pull off a trade when the club announced on Monday that second baseman Adam Kennedy has been given his unconditional release.
The team has requested waivers on Kennedy that will expire on Wednesday. No club is likely to claim him, as that organization would then have to assume the $4 million salary commitment the Cardinals made to the veteran for the 2009 season.
Assuming the 33-year-old clears waivers, he will become an unrestricted free agent. The club that picks him up will only be liable for the MLB minimum salary of $400,000, with the Cardinals on the hook for the remainder.
“We have exhausted all trade possibilities for Adam, and have decided that it was within both the club and the player’s best interests to give Adam his unconditional release,” stated Cardinals’ Vice President/General Manager John Mozeliak. “As stated last year, it has been our intention – at Adam’s request - to try and seek a trade. As we move forward, we feel that it is best to try and fill the second base position with other players from within our organization.”
Kennedy, originally drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of the 1997 draft, was traded to the then-Anaheim Angels along with pitcher Kent Bottenfield for outfielder Jim Edmonds during 2003 spring training, on March 23 of that year. Kennedy, along with former Cardinals David Eckstein and Scott Spiezio and current St. Louis third baseman Troy Glaus, made up the starting infield for the 2002 Angels’ world champion club.
As a free agent, Kennedy signed a three-year, $10 million contract to return to the Cardinals on December 1, 2006, in the final year of the Walt Jocketty tenure as GM. The second baseman's return was a stormy one, at least offensively.
The right-handed hitter batted just .217 in 2007, as his season ended early due to August knee surgery. In 2008, Kennedy started hot, batting .314 in April, but was very inconsistent all season long, alternating good months and bad. As the uneven season neared its end, Kennedy had asked for a trade.
Felipe Lopez, signed after having been dropped by the Washington Nationals, was taking away at-bats as Kennedy was shuffled among second, first base and the corner outfield positions. Kennedy had never played at first or in the outfield during his previous 11 seasons as a professional.
During his two-season return to the Cardinals, Kennedy’s line was .252/.303/.335 (BA/OBP/SLG). His .638 OPS compares to the NL second-base OPS average of .746 for that period.
The Cardinals seemed more than willing to trade Kennedy, but early in the off-season, surprisingly reaffirmed their commitment to the second baseman for 2009. Perhaps that was a smokescreen designed to signal prospective trade partners that the Cardinals were not desperate. The release indicates they perhaps were.
This is at least the third pre-emptive move made by the club in the last two seasons to shed declining veterans while eating cash in the process. Edmonds was sent to San Diego along with $2 million to cover part of his 2008 salary with third base prospect David Freese coming the other way. Disgruntled third baseman Scott Rolen was dispatched to Toronto last January along with a net commitment of $2.2 million as the Cards picked up the contract of Troy Glaus in return.
The Cardinals have quantity, if not unproven quality among the many second base candidates reporting to Jupiter, FL next week for the start of Spring Training. They include Brendan Ryan, Brian Barden, Joe Thurston, Jarrett Hoffpauir and Tyler Greene, along with outfielder Skip Schumaker, who will also be given an opportunity to play second base for the first time.
There are also veteran free agent second basemen still available such as Orlando Hudson and Ray Durham. Whether or not the Cardinals spend the money to venture outside the organization to replace Kennedy remains to be seen. Mozeilak's quote above would seem to say "no", but the same organization also recommitted to Kennedy not that long ago, so the plans could surely change direction once again.
Either way, the Cardinals seem primed to eat at least $3.6 million to part ways with Kennedy.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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