01/11/11 5:35 PM EST
Seattle gives Kennedy return to comfort zone
Signed to Minors deal, veteran thrived during time in AL West
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
Kennedy, 35, signed a Minor League deal with Seattle on Monday and hopes to earn a roster spot and carry on the success he's previously enjoyed as a solid-hitting infielder with the Angels and A's.
"I've always enjoyed the American League, especially the West," Kennedy said Tuesday from his home in California. "I've always seemed to have my best years in that division. For whatever reason, I don't know. But coincidence or not, I've really enjoyed it."
Kennedy struggled offensively with the Washington Nationals last year, hitting .249 with three home runs, 31 RBIs and a .655 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 342 at-bats. But he's only a year removed from what he considers his best all-around offensive season with Oakland in '09, when he batted .289 with 11 home runs, 63 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and a .758 OPS.
As a left-handed hitter with good speed and a career .275 average, Kennedy presents an interesting addition to the Mariners' infield situation. With Chone Figgins headed back to third base, the club has new acquisition Brendan Ryan set to fill in at second until rookie Dustin Ackley's arrival.
But Ryan is also a quality defensive shortstop who could compete or split time at that position with Jack Wilson, which would open playing time for Kennedy at second and give the Mariners a potentially better bat in a lineup that could use the help.
Kennedy sees enough of an opportunity in Seattle to have accepted a Minor League deal with an invitation to compete for a spot in Spring Training.
"I had a few options, but just looking at rosters, the chance to get some at-bats and show I can still play was intriguing," he said. "I'm looking forward to going back to Arizona and hopefully having a good spring."
As for where he fits into the Mariners' mix?
"I have not talked to them personally, just through my agent," Kennedy said. "My understanding, I'm a little different player than Brendan Ryan. I'm another option. I do understand the Ackley situation, but hopefully if he's not quite ready to break camp, I'd be able to step in and fill that spot until he's ready."
Kennedy went through a similar circumstance last year when he lost playing time in the final month to young prospect Danny Espinosa as the Nationals tried to look forward with a team that finished 69-93.
But he helped wherever possible with the Nats, including playing frequently as a late-inning defensive replacement at first base, another possible role in Seattle in conjunction with young Justin Smoak. Kennedy said he's not picky about a position; he just wants to play.
"I enjoyed playing third the year I did it in Oakland," he said. "I struggled a little at times, but I enjoyed it. I even played some outfield. Whatever, at this point, you know?
"I just want to keep playing. I really love baseball and am definitely not ready to put that aside if I'm still given an opportunity. I do understand I really need to come into camp in good shape, ready to show early on. Other years I've had the opportunity to take my time and get ready, but this is a little different scenario. It should be fun."
Kennedy figures to at least challenge returners Josh Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo for a utility role and he'll certainly bring some veteran presence to the clubhouse. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has 1,491 career games on his resume, as well as a .308 batting average in 25 postseason appearances with the Angels.
He was MVP of the American League Championship Series in '02 en route to helping the Angels win a World Series title. Kennedy was teammates with Figgins for five years in Anaheim from 2002-06. And while he hasn't talked to him about his struggles in Seattle, he did watch what Figgins was doing last year from afar.
"I kept an eye on him and everything," Kennedy said. "Sometimes just that first time with a new team, maybe trying to do too much, it can be an adjustment."
As for his own leadership potential in Seattle, Kennedy doesn't want to force anything.
"If that is the case and it's needed, that's great," he said. "But there are some other guys on the team that have played and had success. They just brought in [Miguel] Olivo. They've obviously got Ichiro and Figgy. I think those guys bring quite a bit of that as well. Hopefully, I can just fit as needed."
Where that might be remains to be seen, but Kennedy's addition certainly makes for more interesting infield competition in Spring Training, which opens when Mariners pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13 in Peoria, Ariz.