Richard Justice

Re-signing Kendrick an improvement -- period

Re-signing Kendrick an improvement -- period

The Dodgers got better on Friday by re-signing second baseman Howie Kendrick, and isn't that the bottom line? Let's not overthink it. If you're fretting over the depth chart, don't. It's a little fuzzy right now, but that stuff always sorts itself out.

Instead, let's focus on what the Dodgers added to their roster.

First, there's production. Kendrick is a .293 career hitter. Last season, he batted .297 against right-handed pitching, .291 against lefties.

Yes, Kendrick is 32 years old, and his defense slipped in 2015. But he's meticulous about his work habits and would appear to have a chance to play at a high level for awhile longer, certainly through the two years of this new contract.

Second, there are intangibles. This is a tricky one. This we know: Kendrick is one of baseball's consummate professionals. He makes every clubhouse he has been in better, and by extension, every team better.

Anyone who has ever played, managed or gotten to know Kendrick will tell you he's a winning player in every way that vague phrase can be dissected. On a Dodgers club with a rookie manager, Dave Roberts, and a string of large personalities, including the mercurial Yasiel Puig, Kendrick's presence is important.

Having said all that, this is a surprising signing. When the Dodgers brought back Chase Utley on a one-year, $7 million deal, they were prepared to move on from Kendrick.

When Kendrick rejected their $15.8 million qualifying offer, the Dodgers figured he would sign elsewhere. They would take the compensation Draft pick, and that would be that.

Only it didn't happen. This week, with Spring Training less than three weeks away, Kendrick remained unsigned. Sometimes budgets and needs don't line up with the marketplace.

Now with teams putting the finishing touches on their rosters, that compensation pick became a larger and larger issue. Kendrick would have been a perfect fit with the D-backs, but Arizona lost its first-round Draft pick by signing Zack Greinke and was unwilling to lose its second-rounder for Kendrick.

So Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman did something really smart. He circled back, took a second and third look at his roster and decided he liked his team better with Kendrick than without him.

The Dodgers were already favored to win a third straight division championship before this deal. But with the Giants and D-backs both having improved their rosters and with Greinke gone from the pitching staff, every single spot may matter.

How will the pieces fit? In the original blueprint, Utley was to play against right-handed pitching, Enrique Hernandez against lefties.

That's how the numbers said it would play out. Utley, 37, hit .221 against right-handers, .186 against lefties. Hernandez batted .423 against lefties in 2015 and will play regardless of who else he shares the position with.

Now it appears Kendrick will start against right-handers, Hernandez against lefties. Utley could be a backup at both second and third.

Third baseman Justin Turner's health is another consideration. He underwent knee surgery in November, and while's Ken Gurnick reports he'll be ready to go in Spring Training, Kendrick's arrival gives the roster more insurance.

Besides that, Turner started games at every infield position last season and could move around some if, say, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez needs a day off.

To see a problem developing is to look too closely. This is about winning. Roberts will have the challenge of getting his guys to buy into the bottom line, but that's the case with 29 other teams as well.

Players have egos. They got to the big leagues by believing they were good enough to play. In most cases, they're not wired to sit on the bench.

But they're also wired to win. If the rotation lines up behind Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are good enough to win a championship, and in the end, nothing else matters. Kendrick moves them another step or two in that direction, and that's all that matters.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.