When did Austin Kearns’ career go sour?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Los Angeles DodgersThe Washington Nationals made it official today, yet we’ve known this since 2008 ended. Austin Kearns has been let go, the team opted to pay him a $1 million buyout instead of the $10 million he would have accounted against their payroll in 2010.

It seems hard to believe that Kearns has been around for 8 years already. When he first arrived in the bigs with the Reds there was so much talk that he was better then Adam Dunn who was currently clubbing the ball for the Reds.

Truth about Kearns is after a pretty good start to his career in 2002 and 2003 in which he compiled a .292/.388/.480 line, 28 home runs and 114 RBI in 189 games things began to go south.

The following two seasons he hit just .237/.329/.440 still showing power with 27 home runs but showing a drop in RBI with 99 over 176 games.

After a strong start to the 2006 season with the Reds he was traded to Washington along with Felipe Lopez and Ryan Wagner, who both happened to be pretty worthless for the Nationals as well, for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski, starter Daryl Thompson, and infielders Brendan Harris and Royce Clayton. Talk about a lot of nothingness being exchanged I can’t help but wonder why anyone thought the Reds were seriously making a playoff push with that list of cast off’s.

Anyway… Kearns continued to hit with the Nationals finishing out 2006 and the team decided to give him a three year contract extension in February of 2007.

Something tells me Bill Ladson would feel like an idiot today for how he phrased this when he reported the news on the Nationals offical website.

But whatever reservations Kearns had back in July vanished on Thursday, when he agreed to a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension. Kearns will make $3.5 million in 2007, $5 million in 2008 and $8 million. There also is a club option for 2010 worth $10 million or a $1 million buyout. Kearns was accompanied by his wife, Abby, when the announcement was made at Nationals headquarters on Washington Square.

I can’t fault Ladson for being excited about Kearns as well as the rest of the Nationals fan base considering the numbers the outfielder had just put up.

Three years later and Kearns had totaled .240/.339/.366 with 26 homers and 123 RBI in three seasons totaling 327 games. The sad fact about those numbers is the majority of the home runs (16) and RBI (71) actually came in 2007 which made the $3.5 million he pocketed that season a pretty fair deal for both sides. In 2008 while playing 86 games he hit just 7 homers and 32 RBI and last year over 80 games finisehd with 3 home runs and 17 RBI.

If you were to combine his numbers from 2008 and 2009 you’d have a full season of work for a regular. 166 games played, 568 at-bats and the numbers that matter? .209/.320/.312 with just 10 homers, and 49 RBI all while collecting $13 million.

Since the start of 2008 Kearns has also spent his share of time injuries. In 2008 he spent time on the DL for loose bodies in his right elbow as well as a stress fracture in his left foot, in 2009 it was a thumb injury none of which can truly be related to his late 2006 collision with Nick Johnson that left him sore on his left side.

There doesn’t figure to be a bunch of teams jumping at the bit to sign Kearns as even a fourth or fifth outfielder this season and it’s likely that he’ll have to accept a minor league deal with an invite to spring training in order to continue his baseball career.

I’m not quite sure where things began to go wrong for Austin Kearns’ career but considering the numbers I think it’s worth consideration that he was already going south prior to ever joining the Nationals.

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