Examining options for five teams in a potential (and risky) Matt Kemp trade
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s no secret that the Dodgers have a logjam in their outfield, with big-money commitments to four players — Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig — through at least 2017. Judging by the buzz from the winter meetings, it appears that the most likely player to be traded from among that group is Kemp. However, given that he’s owed the most money, has major question marks surrounding his health and may not even be available at the start of the 2014 season, the risk for both the Dodgers and whichever team trades for him is high.
It wasn’t that long ago that the 29-year-old Kemp was one of the game’s most celebrated players and was the picture of durability. From 2008-11, he averaged 159 games a year, and at one point played in 399 consecutive games. That streak ended when he went on the disabled list for a left hamstring strain on May 14, 2012, the first of five separate trips he’s made to the DL over the past two seasons, a span during which he’s played just 179 games. When he was available in 2012, he played nearly to his 2011 MVP-caliber form, hitting .303/.367/.538 with 23 homers in 106 games, but amid shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, he sank to .270/.328/.395 with six homers in 73 games in 2013.
After this past season, he underwent two surgeries. The first was a debridement of the acromioclavicular joint in his left shoulder, the same one that required surgery to reattach his labrum after the 2012 season, stemming from an Aug. 28 collision with the outfield wall at Coors Field. The second was microfracture surgery and removal of a bone spur and loose bodies in his left ankle, which he sprained during a non-slide at home plate on July 21, 2013 — his first game back from a 15-day DL stint due to an aggravated shoulder.
Earlier this week, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told MLB Network Radio that Kemp remains in a walking boot and won’t be 100 percent healthy in time for spring training, but more recent reports contradict those assertions. On Tuesday, SI’s Tom Verducci reported reported that he’d shed the boot, and on Wednesday, Colletti told the Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Shaikin that he expects Kemp to be ready for the team’s March 22 opener in Australia. Recent history shows that Los Angeles has expressed far too much optimism about Kemp’s returns from injury to take that statement at face value.
If his questionable health wasn’t enough to ward off potential trade partners, Kemp is still due $128 million over the next six years, including $21 million in 2014. By comparison, check out how much the other three high-priced outfielders are owed:
Crawford: $84.5 million through 2017, including $20.25 million in 2014
Ethier: $69 million through 2017, not including a $2.5 million buyout on a $17.5 million option for 2018
Puig: $26 million through 2018; once he reaches three years of service time (which would happen during the 2016 season), he can opt into arbitration in an effort to obtain higher salaries.
In other words, the amount of money Kemp is owed is roughly 50 percent more than the next highest commitment among L.A.’s outfielders.
Even so, Kemp has drawn interest from several teams, mainly due to the likelihood that the Dodgers would have to eat a considerable chunk of his contract in order to get a deal done. His agent, former major league pitcher Dave Stewart, said earlier this week that he expects his client to be dealt, telling the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez, “I’d be surprised if it doesn’t happen.” Early Wednesday morning, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale said via Twitter that the Dodgers are “getting plenty of action on Matt Kemp but say a deal unlikely to be consummated at winter meetings.”
Here’s a quick rundown of the teams that have been connected to Kemp, and where they stand as of Wednesday afternoon.
Over the weekend, general manager Dan Duquette checked in on the availability of both Kemp and Ethier, according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, “but there were issues with the amount of salary that the Dodgers were willing to absorb.” Thus, they appear to be out.
Boston Red Sox
The world champions were among the earliest teams to check in on Kemp, but talks never got serious, and their interest appears to have cooled. On Wednesday night, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweeted that the Red Sox have decided that “[K]emp isn’t a fit at this time.” On the other hand, Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi noted that the team “remain[s] intrigued” even with Jackie Bradley Jr. slated to take over centerfield from the departed Jacoby Ellsbury, and that given the strength of its minor league system, Boston may be able to create the best package to suit L.A.’s need.
They’ve checked in, and while new manager Brad Ausmus is said to have had a strong relationship with Kemp when the two were teammates on the Dodgers in 2009 and ’10, it’s difficult to see how this could work given Detroit’s payroll commitments — which as of Tuesday also include outfielder Rajai Davis, whom the club added via a two-year deal — and thin farm system. That said, if general manager Dave Dombrowski is serious about acquiring Kemp, he could deal centerfielder Austin Jackson, either to the Dodgers or to a third team that could provide whatever pieces Colletti is seeking.
Morosi characterized Seattle as the team having the strongest desire to land Kemp, which is no surprise given its need to substantially upgrade its outfield to create a functioning offense that could accompany the newly-signed Robinson Cano. That said, Heyman characterized the Mariners front office as “split” on the idea of acquiring Kemp. If they did, it’s not clear what Los Angeles would seek in return, particularly given that Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik has said that he has no plans to part with top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker.
There’s been far less buzz about their interest than some of the other teams thus far, but via Heyman, they’ve talked to the Dodgers, too. If they dipped into their minor league system to do a deal, they could place Kemp in leftfield to accompany Leonys Martin in center and Alex Rios in right, with newly-acquired prospect Michael Choice waiting in the wings. That said, the Rangers just took on a significant long-term commitment in Prince Fielder, and they’re believed to be among the teams that will pursue Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka if he’s posted.
Verducci’s report from Tuesday included two unidentified National League teams among those pursuing Kemp. That’s interesting in part because all of the other suitors identified have been AL teams; if the Dodgers traded him out of the league, Kemp could see more time at DH while in less than perfect health, and once fully healthy, he wold be less likely to haunt his old team directly.
Verducci reported that Los Angeles is willing to go into next season splitting some 1,800 plate appearances among the four outfielders. However, the egos involved and a payroll above $200 million make it seem unlikely that situation could persist throughout the season. Still, given the current concerns about Kemp’s health, the Dodgers and any potential trade partner may be better off waiting until spring training to get a better gauge of his progress. Dealing him may eventually make the most sense, but now simply isn’t an optimal time for any team given the high risks involved.