After putting on a dazzling season and finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young race in 2011, Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy dropped back down to earth in 2012, his league-leading 21 wins in 2011 transforming into a 14-11 record, with a 4.14 ERA replacing last season's 2.88 effort.
Nonetheless, Kennedy's value to the Arizona Diamondbacks has been incredible, especially with a meager sub-million dollar salary since coming over from New York prior to the 2010 season. However, Kennedy is eligible for arbitration in 2013, and with hardliner agent Scott Boras sure to get the financial tables turning—think Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira—it is time for Arizona to contemplate exactly how valuable "incredible" really is.
In the sabermetrics ERA+ category, Kennedy has earned a 101, just one point above the 100 benchmark for the statistic, compared to 137 in 2011 and 111 in 2010.
Still, with a strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio of 8.0 for the second consecutive season and a walks-per-nine-innings ratio just 0.1 point higher than it was in 2011—and one walk per nine innings less than it was in 2010—Kennedy has clearly continued refining the finer points of pitching, the attributes he can control that are not necessarily dependent on teammates' hustle in the field or at the bat.
Kennedy does hold a 2.0 wins-above-replacement figure, which indicates he is still quite valuable to the club. At the age of 27, Kennedy is set to grasp the role of veteran youngster as a bevy of prospects prepares to enter the MLB race.
And while ERA+, S/9, WAR and all the rest are wonderful fun, it perhaps is that role of "veteran youngster"—and of leader—that may be of most value to the upstart Diamondbacks of 2013.
With fellow D-Back Daniel Hudson on the 60-day DL, Kennedy is presently joined by Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation.
Other than Cahill, an Oakland import and senior circuit rookie in 2012, the young starting pitchers all made their MLB debut with Arizona, having spent an assorted number of years in the franchise's minor league system.
Though Kennedy himself did not debut with Arizona, the middle-aged, former Cy Young candidate youngster's presence on the desert mound is reassuring to a staff that has seen anything but consistency in the lineup card.
In 2011, rookie Josh Collmenter described Kennedy as, "a good guy to look up to as a young guy coming up ... If you have to model your game after someone, he's a good guy to do it. He kind of embodies everything we try to do as a pitching staff." (via azcentral.com)
Even former Angel Joe Saunders praised Kennedy upon joining the D-Backs: "He's just incredible."
And therein lies the appeal of an Ian Kennedy long-term deal.
The Diamondbacks need a constant starting pitching presence on the field, in the dugout and simply on the team. Signing Kennedy to a long-term deal would meet this objective while ensuring that Kennedy, who has already proven himself a leader amongst pitchers, will continue to grow into the veteran presence Arizona needs on the mound.
In February of 2012, Kennedy explained his interest in a multi-year contract: "I would entertain hearing it. I think anyone would." (per Steve Gilbert, mlb.com)
Yet with Boras looming in the shadows of any potential talks, the realistic likelihood of a long-term deal remains unclear.
It has happened time and time again with Boras clients, a multi-year deal falling apart before it has even found the table because Boras prefers "the traditional discussions of one-year contracts," as he put it—unless, of course, the multi-year deal happens to be fairly lucrative for the player/agent.
In the end, the Diamondbacks should sign Kennedy to a long-term deal, but only if the price is right.