MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers wanted a deal with free-agent catcher Jason Kendall before the start of the holiday weekend, and, pending a physical, they got one. A day after trading away incumbent Johnny Estrada, the Brewers announced they had agreed in principle to terms with Kendall, a 33-year-old coming off an uncharacteristically poor offensive year with the A's and Cubs. It is a one-year pact that includes a vesting option for 2009 that will kick in should Kendall start 115 games. The contract will not become official until Kendall passes a physical in the later part of next week, general manager Doug Melvin said.
"When I was [the GM] in Texas, I had Pudge Rodriguez for seven years," Melvin said. "Here, we've changed catchers a few times. This is a position that's very valuable, and sometimes you have to look for somebody every year." Melvin wouldn't reveal any of the agreement's other financial components, probably because he wants to avoid any chance of a situation like the one that developed between Yorvit Torrealba, another free-agent catcher, and the Mets last week. Terms were reportedly set, but then the deal fell apart, and the Mets instead traded Tuesday for Estrada. A representative from agent Arn Tellem's office said earlier Wednesday that there would be no comment on Kendall until there was something concrete to announce. Efforts to reach Tellem after the Brewers made their announcement Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful. Kendall hit .270 with a .362 on-base percentage for Chicago after a midseason trade from Oakland and finished the year with a .242 average, three homers and 41 RBIs in 137 games. The Brewers are banking that Kendall can perform closer to his career numbers, which include a .297 lifetime batting average and a .375 on-base percentage. "He's the only catcher in baseball who has started 130 games a year over the last five years and one of only three last year," Melvin said. "His durability is big." The Brewers also had received positive reports on Kendall's rapport with pitchers, an aspect of Estrada's game that was at least up for debate. Oakland bullpen coach Brad Fisher, a Madison, Wis., resident, called Melvin after news of the Brewers' interest leaked last week and offered an unsolicited endorsement of Kendall as a teammate and a worker. "That is the type of thing we looked at," Melvin said. Where Kendall bats in the Brewers lineup is up to manager Ned Yost, but he at least offers options. Kendall has batted in all nine slots throughout his career, but hit mostly near the bottom of the order for the A's and Cubs in 2007. "He's a bat control guy who will probably take more pitches than Johnny," Melvin said. The team also hopes Kendall is an upgrade behind the plate over Estrada, who apparently did not mesh with some uniformed personnel during his first and only year with the Brewers. Estrada ranked last in the Majors in throwing out potential basestealers at 13.1 percent. Kendall was not much better, ranking next-to-last among regulars with a 15.3 percent success rate according to STATS, Inc., which includes pitchers' pickoffs with catchers' caught stealing percentages. The Associated Press reached Kendall at home in Southern California, but he declined to comment until the contract was finalized, saying only, "It's close." When Kendall is added to Milwaukee's 40-man roster, he will join Mike Rivera and Eric Munson, who was claimed off waivers from the Astros soon after the season, and Lou Palmisano, who was added to the roster this week. Still, Brewers brass will meet next week to decide whether to add another backup option. "We're going to decide," said Melvin, who mentioned 2007 Brewers backup Damian Miller as an available option. Melvin said he has spoken to Miller's agent, and believes Miller wants to play in 2008.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.