03/02/09 2:22 PM EST
Kennedy trying to find niche on Rays
Non-roster invitee hopes work this spring translates for season
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
He didn't need one.
What Tampa Bay's skipper had instead was several years of a good relationship with Kennedy, from when Maddon was a longtime bench coach for the Angels, and Kennedy was a stalemate at second base.
Those times are long gone now, though. After two dicey years in St. Louis that were mired by a knee injury and a reported iffy relationship with manager Tony La Russa, Kennedy had to settle for a Minor League deal this offseason -- after the Cardinals released him with one year and $4 million remaining on his contract -- and now he's just trying to find a fit.
But since the Rays brought Kennedy in on Feb. 17, a little over a week since his release from the Cardinals -- the team that made him a first-round pick in 1997 -- Maddon has been up front.
"Just honesty," Maddon said. "I don't really give sales pitches. I just try to be honest with the guys because I don't want anybody to come here under any kind of false pretenses or assumptions. He knew exactly, coming into this, what the situation is, and he accepted that, and he felt pretty good about it."
That situation is the fact that the Rays already seem set with their infield, with Evan Longoria starting at third base, Jason Bartlett at shortstop and Akinori Iwamura at second base. Not only is the starting lineup rounded out, but Tampa Bay brought in Willy Aybar to be a reserve infielder, and Ben Zobrist -- who saw some action in the outfield down the stretch last season -- can also fill that role.
But keeping Kennedy's hopes up are days like Monday, when he's in the starting lineup, leading off and playing second base against the Cardinals.
With Iwamura and Aybar leaving early for the World Baseball Classic, Kennedy will see his fair share of at-bats in Spring Training. And even if his spring ends with him being shipped to Triple-A Durham, Kennedy -- who registered no less than 416 Major League at-bats per year from 2000-06 -- said he's OK with it.
"Their roster is pretty full, with some pretty good players," said Kennedy, who collected two singles with a run scored in his first three at-bats Monday. "But one reason for me coming into the spring positive was because their second baseman was in the [Classic], so there"ll be some at-bats there. And Aybar is in the [Classic]. So there's some at-bats there to be had, with those guys being out, which is exactly what I look for."
In hopes of giving him ample opportunity, Maddon said he's going to try the 32-year-old second baseman at different positions. Kennedy is expected to start at third base on Tuesday against the Astros -- a position he's never played at the big league level -- and throughout the course of the spring, he'll even see some action in the outfield. Throughout his 10-year Major League career, Kennedy has played 1,161 games at second base, and just 10 in right field -- the position he's seen the next-most amount of action.
But Kennedy, who batted .280 in 115 games in 2008, is open to anything this spring. And if he performs, Maddon believes anything is possible.
"Things happen during the course of camp, and you never know," Maddon said. "So if something were to happen, you have a guy of that magnitude within your organization, within your team right now, who can make quite a difference on the impact of the season."
The reigning American League Manager of the Year has absolutely no problem with that guy being Kennedy.
"I have nothing but great things to say about him," Maddon said. "He was one of the best teammates, best clubhouse guys I've ever been around. He built himself into a very, very good second baseman. He was not an accomplished second baseman by any means when he first began. He made himself into it. I saw him do the work."
Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.