Padres: Kendall contract would limit flexibility

Updated: January 13, 2004, 8:37 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- The long-discussed deal to send Jason Kendall from the Pirates to San Diego fell apart Tuesday when the Padres' ownership balked at picking up the remaining $42 million of the catcher's contract.

The two sides have talked since late last week about a trade in which the Pirates would get third baseman Jeff Cirillo and catcher Ramon Hernandez for Kendall, a San Diego native and three-time All-Star.

Padres general manager Kevin Towers said that decision not to pursue Kendall came during a meeting of the team's top executives, including owner John Moores. The Padres decided Kendall's big contract would limit their flexibility for adding a player at the trading deadline or a pitcher in free agency after next season.

"If there was a big-name pitcher available, we'd kick ourselves in the pants if we've got $20 million committed to a catcher," Towers said.

Despite the months of negotiations, Towers thinks the Kendall talks are dead for good.

The Padres did make one move Tuesday, signing center fielder Jay Payton to a $5.5 million, two-year contract.

This is at least the fourth time since last summer the Padres and Pirates have negotiated a possible Kendall trade and, as of Monday, the two sides had a deal in principle. The Pirates were so convinced a deal was near, they had a press release announcing the trade already prepared.

The Padres initially wanted Kendall included in the Aug. 26 deal in which they acquired outfielder Brian Giles, but those talks snagged on how much of Kendall's contract the Pirates would pay.

Kendall's back-end loaded $60 million deal, signed in 2000, is worth $42 million over the next four seasons -- $8 million in 2004, $10 million in 2005, $11 million in 2006 and $13 million in 2007. Previously, the Padres wanted Pittsburgh to pay as much as $25 million.

The Pirates would have assumed the nearly $22 million owed Cirillo ($15 million) and Hernandez ($6.95 million), but the Padres' ownership apparently was uncomfortable with the large amount still owed Kendall.

Until the talks suddenly fell apart late Tuesday afternoon, both teams seemed optimistic the long-in-the-making deal was finally done.

Towers has long been a Kendall fan and likes his ability to get on base; Kendall's .385 on-base percentage is especially high for a catcher.

Kendall is the son of former Padres catcher Fred Kendall, and landing him would have given the Padres a popular local player to market as they move into Petco Park this year.

Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield has appeared intent on remaking his team since early last season, and dealing Kendall would have freed him of the club's last remaining big contract.

Kendall signed his deal during a big wave of salary inflation that hit just as the Pirates were readying to move into PNC Park in 2001.

Cirillo's contract, while not as large as Kendall's, was cited as the worst in Mariners history after they dealt him last week. Cirillo, long a consistent run producer, had his two worst seasons after the Mariners picked up the $29.05 million, four-year contract extension he signed with Colorado in July 2000.

With Sean Burroughs already set at third base, Cirillo apparently will become one of the majors' most expensive utility players.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press