You could definitely say it was a shock when the Dodgers brought back Matt Kemp in the fated Charlie Culberson trade. In a trade designed to open up payroll space and 40 man roster space, it has left the Dodgers in a bit of a pickle. This is not the same Matt Kemp Dodger fans remember.
Even before being traded to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal his performance was declining. Despite putting up relatively solid offensive numbers in 2012-2014, his defense started to decline. He went from a slightly below-average fielder to downright awful, and that hurt his value. Since 2012 he has averaged a -2.0 dWAR (defensive WAR). Which ranks worse than players like Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, or Mark Trumbo. To say his defense is awful is an understatement.
Since 2012 he has only accumulated a 5.8 fWAR and 3.1 bWAR. In fact, 3.2 of that 5.8 fWAR comes from 2012. If you eliminate 2012, you are looking at a 2.6 fWAR and 0.7 bWAR player. He has at most brought a value of 3 extra wins to teams since 2013!
Last year was his worst season yet in terms of both WAR metrics. To expect anything meaningful from him is a stretch, especially when he will be in his 33-year-old season. So then, what should the Dodgers do with Matt Kemp? They have one of three options. First, try to trade him to an AL team in need of a DH. Second, outright release him. And lastly, and least likely, keep him as a right-handed bat off the bench.
Trade Him To An AL Team in Need of a DH
This is the first and most desirable outcome of the three. There are a few teams that have been seen as possible destinations for Kemp. Among them are the Royals, White Sox, and Rays. All of which will have a need for a right-handed power DH in 2018. But, similar to the Dodgers, the sticking point is Kemp’s contract. $43.5 million left over the next two years is not desirable for someone like Kemp. Despite all this, some AL team may find a use for him.
Regarding any #Dodgers effort to trade Kemp: It won’t be easy, unless they attach at least one significant prospect. Kemp owed $43M over next two years. #Braves could not move him except in this type of mammoth, cash-neutral deal
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 16, 2017
Part of any trade will have to include the Dodgers eating no less than 50% of his contract. Even more so, with his limited abilities in the field, any team acquiring him would have to weigh whether or not any offense he brings would be worth it. And beyond that, it may require the Dodgers including a prospect to entice any team to take on Kemp.
It has been written about here before that the Rays would be an ideal target for one reason: Chris Archer. Obviously, the trade wouldn’t be exclusive to Kemp and Archer. But including Kemp along with a prospect package to acquire Chris Archer could be possible. In any case, it would be very difficult to find the right club to acquire Kemp for the right price.
Even if the Dodgers can ship him somewhere and eat 75% of that contract, it would still be beneficial. In this case, eating 75% of his contract would open up another $5.44 million in each of the next two seasons, which is the front office’s goal from the beginning.
Designate Him For Assignment and Release Him
Since Kemp would be extremely difficult to trade, the Dodgers only other reasonable option may be to release him. His usefulness as anything other than a DH is obvious at this point. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, he would have little to no use to the team. Occupying a roster spot that could otherwise be given to someone more useful, is less than ideal.
trade market for matt kemp believed to be virtually nonexistent. if dodgers can find a taker via trade they are magicians.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 18, 2017
Furthermore, with how coy Andrew Friedman has been on Kemp’s role, this seems reasonable. In all honesty, Dodger fans need to remember that bringing Kemp back was merely a salary clearing move. Bringing him back was only to free roster space and get below the luxury tax threshold. The Braves already released Adrian Gonzalez, so it isn’t a stretch to envision the Dodgers doing the same.
Keep Him and Find Him a Role
Of the three options, this seems to be the least likely. This would be a worst-case scenario. There is a lot that needs to happen for him to hold a spot on the Dodgers’ 25 man roster. This would mean the Dodgers’ brass was not able to find a trade suiter or decided not to eat the remaining $43.5 million. Although it is worth pointing out, the Dodgers have not shied away from eating a big contract in the past (see Carl Crawford and his $34 million).
Andrew Friedman on the team's plans for Matt Kemp: "That's a good question. Obviously, there's a lot of winter left."
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) December 16, 2017
Beyond that Kemp would have to beat out the number of other contenders for outfield roster spots. That would mean outperforming guys like Andrew Toles, Kike Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo, Trayce Thompson, and potentially others. Given his contract, and the Dodgers’ willingness to eat expensive contracts, that doesn’t seem likely.
At the end of the day, even if Kemp doesn’t end up on the Opening Day roster, Dodger fans everywhere managed to relive the glory days of Matt Kemp. He has been the only true 5-tool player the Dodgers have had since the days of Raul Mondesi. For his contributions on the field, he will always be remembered fondly. But that doesn’t exactly mean he fits in this current team.
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