By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 6, 2010; D02
Acting quickly after losing Orlando Hudson to the Minnesota Twins, the Washington Nationals found an alternative second baseman in less time than it takes to say "Plan B."
On Friday, free agent Adam Kennedy became the newest member of a team that was determined to upgrade its middle infield and defense. As a result, Washington's list of major needs for 2010, just about the length of a lineup card in November, is nearly down to zero.
The Nationals agreed to terms with Kennedy on a one-year, $1.25 million deal, with a $2 million option for 2011, according to a team official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is not complete until Kennedy passes a physical. The move gives Washington its starting second baseman -- and a decidedly more affordable one than Hudson, who bypassed Washington by accepting a one-year, $5 million deal with the Twins.
Unlike Hudson, Kennedy, 34, is neither a Gold Glove winner nor an all-star. But he did rejuvenate his career with Oakland in 2009, joining the organization in May and eventually hitting .289 with 11 home runs and 63 RBI in 529 at-bats. He also stole 20 bases. A career .277 hitter with a .391 slugging percentage, Kennedy has a reputation for his reliable fielding -- critical for the Nationals, who are hoping to stabilize a defense that led the league in errors last season.
"He's not a spectacular player, but he doesn't have any weaknesses," Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman said. "He won't hit 30 homers, he won't steal 30 bases, but he's what I like. Good hands, good second baseman, a good hitter. He'll make all the right plays. And he's a nice addition to what we already have there, guys with experience who are just real pros."
By obtaining Kennedy, the Nationals afford themselves greater security in their middle infield, where stopgaps diminish the need to rush prospects such as Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Kennedy and shortstop Cristian Guzmán, 31, whose contract expires after the season, will enter spring training as the team's double-play combination. Desmond, who showed flashes during a big league stint last September, could press for playing time, but he'll more likely head to Class AAA Syracuse for seasoning. Espinosa, who played in 2009 with Class A Potomac, is at least another year or two away.
Though Washington could still sign another veteran starting pitcher before spring training, the Kennedy deal caps a winter in which the Nationals added a potential No. 1 starter (Jason Marquis), a starting catcher (Iván Rodríguez) and their likely closer (Matt Capps). They also added several veterans -- Brian Bruney, Tyler Walker, Eddie Guardado -- to their bullpen.
During recent weeks, though, General Manager Mike Rizzo turned his attention to second base, where last season the Nationals had some of the poorest production in baseball. Those playing the position batted .254. They combined to hit six home runs with a .309 on-base percentage and a .344 slugging percentage -- 27th in baseball. Ronnie Belliard, Willie Harris, Anderson Hernández, Alberto González, Pete Orr and Desmond all started games at second.
Kennedy, an 11-year veteran, has spent the bulk of his career in the American League -- most notably with the Angels in 2002, when they won the World Series and he was MVP of the AL Championship Series. Kennedy was drafted by St. Louis and returned to the organization in 2007 and 2008, overlapping briefly with Riggleman, who served as St. Louis's minor league field coordinator.
Kennedy earned $4 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $10 million deal. Before last season, he had not met expectations set by such a contract. Following two underwhelming seasons, where he was bothered at times by injuries, St. Louis released Kennedy last February. He joined Tampa Bay on a minor league contract and was traded to Oakland months later for infielder Joe Dillon. As a free agent this winter, Kennedy had also attracted interest from Cleveland.