Signing free agent relief pitchers to large, guaranteed contracts is a high-risk maneuver. The Yankees have learned this over the years, as they’ve signed previously good relievers only to see them falter in pinstripes. Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, and Kyle Farnsworth come immediately to mind. The former two had varying degrees of success, but ultimately were not worth the investment. One pitcher who did work out was Tom Gordon, and for a number of reasons. Not only did he mostly pitch effectively in 2004 and 2005 while setting up Mariano Rivera, but he paved the way for the 2006 draft.
After the 2005 season, the Yankees offered Gordon arbitration, but he declined, eventually signing with the Phillies. Even though the Yankees sacrificed their own first round pick that winter by signing Johnny Damon, they picked up the Phillies’, and then a supplemental pick between rounds one and two. With those the Yankees drafted Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, both of whom shot through the minors and pitched for the big league club in late 2007.
Chamberlain was the high-ceiling, risk pick. Other teams backed off because of a triceps injury, but the Yankees could afford to pounce in the supplemental round. Kennedy was the safer pick. As Mike said on draft day:
Solid pick, but very safe and conservative. He’s not far away from the Bronx. He’s a bit undersized (6’0″, 180) and he doesn’t throw hard, but he’s a winner and strikeout machine.
Mike also described his ceiling as a No. 2, but that was based on Kennedy recovering his fastball speed. After sitting 92-93 in his first two college seasons, Kennedy dipped to 89-91 his Junior year. The point is that Kennedy was never supposed to be a top of the rotation starter, a la Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. He was the middle of the rotation, possibly back of the rotation guy who had the command to succeed in the bigs.
We didn’t see much of that command. In Kennedy’s 2008 audition it looked like he was downright afraid to put the ball in the strike zone. It’s a shame, because that was one of his strengths. Without that, he predictably failed. Then came the injuries. Though he only lasted a little bit in the majors in 2008, he pitched just 77 minor league innings because of back troubles. His innings total was even lower in 2008 because of an aneurysm in his right armpit. No, Kennedy didn’t do himself any favors in 2008, but he also didn’t catch any breaks.
I think Chad Jennings has a great take on Kennedy. He’s seen him pitch more than any of us, and comes in with a great conclusion to Kennedy’s pinstriped career: “Two bad months in the big leagues — as a 23 year old with one year of professional experience — is hardly enough to judge Kennedy as a pitcher.” He goes onto describe Kennedy’s recovery this fall; he’s working in a two-seam fastball and has started to use his curveball to induce bad contact rather than a swing and miss.
We’ve always liked Kennedy at RAB, hence “Save the Big Three.” But, as many people pointed out at the time, it was really, “Save the Big Two and think hard about what you do with Kennedy.” He was never a player who would hold up a trade, and after two years of ineffectiveness and bad luck, the Yankees decided not to make him an obstacle in the Curstis Granderson trade. It was probably in their best interests. But I’m definitely going to miss Kennedy. He could have played a role on this team.