MLB Rumors: Ian Kennedy and the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms on a minor league deal, per reports. The 36 year old righthander will have an invite to the major league camp. Per Mark Feinsand, he will get $2.15M plus incentives if he makes the club.
Kennedy is one of those guys who it seems like has spent a lot of his career in the penumbra of Texas Rangers talk, as someone who the Rangers would/should have interest in early in his career, might have interest in as a free agent, and then might be willing to take on as a salary dump. Like Ivan Nova, he’s someone who always seemed like has always been on the radar as a possible Ranger acquisition.
Kennedy was selected at #21 overall in the 2006 draft by the New York Yankees out of the University of Southern California — and yes, that was the draft where the Rangers were hoping Tim Lincecum would fall to them, but when he didn’t, they ended up settling for Kasey Kiker at #12. That didn’t work out for Texas.
Kennedy came up with the Yankees at the same time as Joba Chamberlain and Philip Hughes, with the three of them getting a lot of attention at the time as a highly-touted group of high ceiling pitchers all on about the same timeline in what was to be the next wave of great Yankees pitchers. If you followed prospect news at the time, they were one of the big storylines you would read and hear about, and the three seem inexorably linked together, much like Thomas Diamond, John Danks and Edinson Volquez do with Rangers fans.
Kennedy made his major league debut in 2007 — a year after being drafted — and had 9 starts and a relief appearance in 2008 where he totaled an 8.17 ERA in the majors. After being limited to 1 inning in the majors and 4 starts in the minors in 2009 due to an aneurysm in his arm pit, he was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three team deal in December 2009.*
* A quick digression — that was an interesting trade. Three way deals are always interesting, but this one saw the Yankees go get Curtis Granderson, who had put up 19.1 bWAR over the previous four seasons, from the Detroit Tigers to play center field. Granderson was good for the Yankees from 2010-12, then was hurt, then left as a free agent. The Yankees sent Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers as part of this deal, with Kennedy being sent to the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks got Edwin Jackson from the Tigers, and sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers. This traded worked out quite well for the Yankees and the Tigers. The Diamondbacks? I’m thinking that in retrospect they’d rather have had Scherzer than Kennedy + Jackson.
Kennedy did very good work for the Diamondbacks his first two seasons, logging 65 starts and accumulating 7.8 bWAR, with a 4th place finish in the National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2011 and a 14th place MVP finish. He regressed in 2012, though, putting up a 4.02 ERA in 33 starts, good for a 1.9 bWAR, then was awful in 2013, putting up a 5.23 ERA for the D-Backs before being dealt at the deadline to the San Diego Padres, for whom he had a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts to finish the year.
A nice year in 2014 — 3.63 ERA, 201 IP over 33 starts, a 93 ERA+ and 1.5 bWAR — was followed up was a difficult 2015, as he ended up in the red in bWAR, going just 168 innings in 30 starts, and having a 4.28 ERA that belied the 15 unearned runs he gave up. The timing seemed particularly bad, given that Kennedy was a free agent that offseason, and after rejecting the qualifying offer, it seemed like the combination of recent struggles and draft pick compensation would cripple his market.
The Royals got a great 2016 season out of him, as Kennedy logged a 4.3 bWAR in 33 starts, and it looked like maybe they got a steal with this deal. Kennedy followed that up with two poor seasons in the rotation, however. He moved to the bullpen in 2019, was really good, and then allowed 17 runs in 14 innings in 2020, the final year of his deal.
So Kennedy was back on the market and, with camps opening, apparently had no major league deal on the table, so he heads to Texas on a minor league deal. Maybe he signed with Texas because he liked the spring facilities at Surprise, having spent the last five years with the Royals. In any case, he’s one more veteran arm in the mix for a bullpen spot this year.