The news was enough to send a shiver through any Royals fan…
“Jason Kendall, 36, underwent surgery September 3 to repair major tearing (of his right rotator cuff.) The typical recovery period is eight to 10 months. Though Kendall contends he is ahead of schedule.”
Funny how all this works, isn’t it? Kendall began his career when dinosaurs (or Carl Everett, I don’t remember which) roamed the Earth. Then the guy disappears at the end of the season and it’s out of sight, out of mind. This whole winter when Clark has been putting together his 25 man rosters or in any kind of conversations I’ve had with Royals fans, Kendall never seems to come up as having a role on the 2011 team.
You know what… That’s fine.
Except there he was on the first day of camp, checking in before jetting off to LA to have his shoulder examined. The threat (and it is a threat) is very real that Kendall will finish his rehab ahead of schedule and will start to take time behind the plate and at bats away from Brayan Pena, Luke May and whomever else the Royals will use at catcher this summer. Yes, I know that these guys probably aren’t part of the future. Neither is Kendall.
I get what Dayton Moore and the Royals braintrust are trying to do when assembling a roster. At this point of The Process, it’s all about the youth but on the occasion they are looking at veterans, they are looking for solid baseball citizens first and talented baseball players second. How else do you explain Jeff Francoeur? And while those of us who are sabermetrically inclined scoff at the idea of clubhouse chemistry – We know how to measure a good hitter, but how do you measure a good teammate? – there is certainly something to the point that you need veteran players to show the youngsters how things are done at the major league level. How far would Nuke Laloosh have gone without Crash Davis telling him his cliches and schooling him on the art of keeping moldy shower shoes?
And doesn’t this feel like another failure of The Process at this point? All this focus on having good baseball citizens and we learn that some players called meetings to specifically mock Billy Butler. Yeah, I would think that could poison the clubhouse chemistry. More importantly, how does that happen? Every clubhouse will have it’s bad seeds or it’s malcontents. Kansas City has had their fair share perhaps because the team is a consistent loser. But still, the fact that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to that level is disturbing and disgusting. Especially after the lip service given to having quality veterans.
But I digress… There is something to having veterans on a young team. The right veterans.
And since we now have Frenchy – who, by all accounts is a great guy - there’s no reason for Kendall to stick around.
Oh, there will be all this talk about how Kendall can help the pitching staff, but in baseball you really can’t make lemonade out of lemons. Besides, Jeff Francis has seen his share of battles and Bruce Chen is back. Kyle Davies is Captain Awesome, having parlayed unbelievably poor season after unbelievably poor season into some kind of longevity. It’s not a good staff, but it’s not one short of experience. Last season, the team ERA was 4.97. I wouldn’t blame Kendall for that number any more than I would give him credit if their collective ERA was league average.
And if Brayan Pena spent all last summer learning from Kendall, is there really more wisdom Kendall can impart? If Pena didn’t pick up a few pointers from watching Kendall catch practically every freaking inning last summer, there’s no hope.
At this point of The Process, it would do both parties good to move on to the next stage. Kendall can’t contribute anything with the bat. He hasn’t been able to do that for years. His receiving skills have eroded as well. It happens. The dude is 36 years old for crying out loud. Adding a surgically repaired shoulder to the equation isn’t going to make things better. It’s time for Kendall to pull a page from the Gil Meche handbook, do the right thing, and walk away. It won’t be the ending he wanted, but it will be a damn sight better than struggling through yet another summer. Plus, his continual rehab will draw energy and resources away from players who will inevitably pick up the bump or bruise during camp that could use the help. That’s not saying the Royals would ignore or mistreat an injury. I’m just saying that not having to deal with getting Kendall ready for game action would free up the training staff to work on something else.
And it’s not like Kendall would be a productive player if he returns. That ship sailed a long time ago. All he would do is steal at bats and time from the other catchers on the club. As I said earlier, they’re not that great to start but they’re younger and less expensive. They deserve their shot. They don’t deserve another summer of hoping the Royals get blown out so they can catch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Still, the Royals can let Kendall hang around – You don’t stick with the game as long as he has unless you live and breathe baseball – but do it as a coach. Channel that passion into something that can truly help the team. Have him hang out in Surprise and work with the catchers who are healthy and can play the game. Then let him spend the summer on the road in places like Omaha, Northwest Arkansas and Wilmington. If he’s such a valuable mentor, turn him loose on the youth of the franchise. I admire his grit and his desire to return to play. Sometimes it’s better to admit the game has passed you by.
He doesn’t even have to do the Full Meche… Go ahead and pay him his money and have him do something else… Anything other than catch for the Royals.
Of course this could all be a moot point. Kendall could run out of grit and will find it impossible to heal enough to ever play baseball again. Either way, he should have played his last game for the Royals.