Second baseman Adam Kennedy, released by the St. Louis Cardinals last week with one year and $4 million remaining on his contract, on Tuesday night signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite offered by the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Kennedy, 33, spent the last two years with the Cardinals but had requested a trade last September due to sporadic playing time. After trying unsuccessfully to trade him for months, the Cardinals finally bit the bullet and dropped the left-handed hitter less than one week before training camp opened.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa admitted he was a driving force behind the decision to release Kennedy, but the problems had been earlier escalated when Kennedy disclosed his trade wishes. The player did not help his case by admitting he was not always prepared to play.
"Last year (2007), I compounded the problem by not accepting the role and not being ready. This year (2008), I've sucked it up and made sure I'm ready if I'm not in there. Now I'm to the point where I have to look out for my career as well," Kennedy told the Post-Dispatch last September.
The fact Kennedy had to take a make-good minor league deal with the Rays instead of a major league contract says a lot about the apparent lack of demand for Kennedy and the current depressed market for second basemen. Type A free agent Orlando Hudson and veteran Ray Durham are among the experienced second sackers currently out of work and job-hunting.
Since the Cardinals released Kennedy, they are on the hook for all of his 2009 salary. The most the Rays will owe the second baseman even if he makes their 25-man roster is the major league minimum salary of $400,000, making the offer low risk for the Tampa organization.
Kennedy is far from assured of winning a job with the Rays, losers in the 2008 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. Incumbent Akinori Iwamura is set as the club's starter at second base with veterans Ben Zobrist and Willy Aybar set to return for another season as infield reserves.
With Kennedy unproven at any other position than second base, his ability to compete for a roster spot as a utilityman is hampered. In ten seasons as a major leaguer, he has played just two innings at shortstop, for example. He has never appeared at third base. La Russa did give Kennedy three games at first base and ten in right field, but the Rays have plenty of other options for reserves at those spots.
Acknowledging the magnitude of Kennedy's challenge, Rays president Andrew Friedman admits that Kennedy needs outside help to make the team. "Right now, he's on the outside looking in," Friedman told the Tampa Tribune. "I think it would take an injury for him to make the Opening Day roster at this point, but you never know."
Right about now, Kennedy has to be asking himself, "Wasn't I better off competing for the starter's job in St. Louis than fighting an uphill battle just to make the Tampa team? Maybe that trade request wasn't such a good idea, after all."
But hey, he will still have that guaranteed paycheck coming in all year long…
Programming note: Kennedy fans may be able to catch the Rays next month when they visit Jupiter to take on the Cardinals in their lone spring visit. That game, on Thursday, March 19, will be televised by Fox Sports Florida.
For the entire up-to-date Cardinals spring radio and television schedule, including opponents' six spring television broadcasts, check out my blog, The Cardinal Nation.
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