Just a few short months ago, this would have sounded absurd. Back when they re-acquired him in what amounts to a swap of terrible contracts with the goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold, the assumption was that the Dodgers would flip Kemp to a DH-needy team in the AL and free up even more salary. It quickly became evident that the front office overestimated their ability to pull off that type of trade, so the narrative change. Ah, they’ll probably just DFA him…
Well, that didn’t happen either and then Spring Training started. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he wouldn’t make the team but what was the harm in running him out there to see if he could generate some interest? Then a funny thing happened. Kemp, in the best shape of his career, relatively speaking, hit well and didn’t look like a complete oil spill in the outfield. Still, nobody wanted him. Then opening day came around and an even funnier thing happened. He was the opening day left fielder.
This truly is one of the better stories in sports right now, and it’s probably being overshadowed by the fact that somehow the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights are competing for the Stanley Cup. Also, Kemp has never really been a sympathetic character. He’s long had the reputation of being a clubhouse cancer, and passive aggressively made some statements about real baseball fans or some nonsense like that when the Padres traded him to Atlanta; not exactly a statement that would endear him to Angelenos. And when your team prints money, fans tend to hope for splashier acquisitions than a washed up, has-been former star on the tail end of an ill-advised I hindsight, super expensive contract.
It turns out though, playing like a boss will make fans forget your past transgressions. If Kemp continues anywhere near his torrid pace (as I am writing this, he just hit a two-run homer off Zach Eflin), he will represent the Dodgers in the All-Star Game. That’s the sort of thing that can happen when you’re in the top three in the National League batting race and OPS+ing 146. Some regression is expected, of course, but Dave Roberts is doing a good job of resting Kemp and his arthritic hips enough to keep him fresh.
Kemp’s detractors will still say, sure he can hit a little. He always could. But he’d have to be Mike Trout with the bat to make up for his appalling defense. It’s true, Kemp’s defense has long been the turd in the punchbowl. However, a recalculation of UZR and the aforementioned being in awesome shape have led to a nearly 10 point improvement in his UZR/150 per Fangraphs. He’s still below average in left field, but on the days he spells Yasiel Puig in right, his UZR/150 is actually 8.0. The sample size is pretty small but that’s… good!
We’re trying to remain positive in the article, right? So let’s not talk too much about where the team might be without him. But it wouldn’t be good. The players who have performed up to or beyond their offensive expectations in 2018 so far are Kemp and…Max Muncy. End of list.
Could all of this actually mean that Kemp has literally played his way into a job in the Dodgers’ 2019 outfield? Let’s be real, it wouldn’t matter if Kemp was hitting .450 with 25 homers; the front office would trade him in a heartbeat if they could find someone to take on his salary. But so far, the front office’s miscalculation that they could trade him before the season is turning into a silver lining. And if it continues, wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Who do you think will be the Dodgers’ left fielder in 2019? (Besides Bryce Harper. Let’s be real, we’re not giving him a $500 million contract). Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports and @DodgersNation. Thank you for reading.
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