Look out, it appears that free-agent starter Ian Kennedy could be in play for the Houston Astros.
As the Houston Astros continue to scour the free-agent market in its search to fill the fifth spot in the starting rotation, it has been rumored that the former San Diego Padre right-hander could be a fit. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Houston could be among a short list of suitors for the 31-year old starting pitcher.
The Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Colorado Rockies are also reportedly interested in acquiring Ian Kennedy’s services. And with Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, and Wei-Yin Chen all coming off the market recently, it isn’t surprising that interest in Kennedy is picking up. So the Astros may have to be careful in their bidding for a starter like the veteran right-hander in this offseason market.
And there is the issue of the qualifying offer Kennedy rejected from the Padres, which means that any team that signs him will have to sacrifice a high draft pick. Not sure that a team ran by Jeff Luhnow would be open to that kind of risk for a non-elite pitcher. The salary could also be an issue when considering the deals that fellow pitchers like Leake received from the San Francisco Giants. Who knows, maybe Kennedy would be open to signing a contract with an opt-out clause after the first year like Kazmir did so he could rebuild his value following a disappointing 2015.
Regardless, adding a pitcher like Kennedy would, in theory, improve the Astros rotation with another proven arm that doesn’t have too much of an injury or issue of durability history. He would also help ease the need for Joseph Musgrove or Chris Devenski to be promoted to the majors as a starter before they are fully ready in case the team doesn’t want to use Scott Feldman next season. Not to mention that a veteran arm like his could come in handy as the season unfolds and a veteran hand is sometimes crucial for when the right situation arises.
But would Kennedy be the right fit for the Astros rotation? Now that is the multi-million dollar question.
Coming off a respectable 2014 season where Kennedy had a 13-13 record with a 3.63 ERA/3.21 FIP, the right-hander helped enforce the notion that he is a solid starter when pitching at his best. Perhaps as a mid-rotation arm on a good team. Of course, it helped that Petco Park was his baseball home that year. Flash forward to the end of the 2015 season in the same place and Kennedy found himself with surprisingly worse results than a year ago (9-15, 4.28 ERA/4.51 FIP).
One of the primary issues with Kennedy in 2015 was a sudden problem with allowing home runs. In 2014, he only allowed 16. In 2015, he allowed 31. Out of all qualified starters last year, Kennedy’s 31 home runs allowed were the fourth most in baseball. The only starting pitchers ahead him were Padres teammate, James Shields, Arizona hurler Ruby De La Rosa, and the now retired Dan Haren. Any team that signs would hope that he regresses to his 2014 HR/FB rate of 7.8%.
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And then there is the issue of hard-hit and soft-hit percentages that rank as one of the highest (35.2%) and lowest (14.6%) in baseball. As we all know, the Astros tend to prefer starters that can do the opposite; see Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh.
Despite his struggles, it appeared that Kennedy was able to work this his issues during the season, and he improved to a certain extent over the second half of 2015 in 84 innings (3.91 ERA/3.50 FIP). And somewhat interesting is that his exit velocity from 2015 is sort of similar to another Astros starter, Lance McCullers, even though there are notable differences between the two right-handers. However, based on exit velocity, Kennedy appeared to struggle against left-handed hitters while McCullers faired much better.
So there could be a fit if the Astros deem Kennedy a worthy risk, especially if the team feels like pitching coach Brent Strom can work his magic on the veteran pitcher’s trouble spots. But when it is all said and done, the overall cost regarding salary and a draft pick for a starter for the former Padre is a steep price to pay. In the short-term, a deal may be worth it. In the long-term, he could be a detriment to the club’s plan for success.
There isn’t a guarantee that the 31-year old starter will improve the Astros chances of winning in 2016. It could happen, but based on Kennedy’s track record over the past three season makes it hard it to believe. It’s hard to imagine Jeff Luhnow risking a draft pick and a chunk of available money on a limited pitcher. But if there is smoke then there must be fire. This definitely a story to pay close attention to as the offseason advances.
**Statistics are provided by Fangraphs**