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The Los Angeles Dodgers are not happy with Matt Kemp and everyone knows it. Kemp has been criticized in the media. Kemp has been criticized by Larry Bowa. Kemp has been criticized by the front office. Kemp has been benched by Joe Torre for games at a time, and now Kemp’s agent is predictably unhappy. Via Hardball Talk:
“It’s almost like it’s open season on Matt, and it’s not right. It’s a bunch of back-seat crap. I’m almost to the point–and maybe so are the Dodgers–where I’m thinking that this just isn’t going to work. The Dodgers have gaps on this team, and maybe they could fill them by trading Matt. It could be good for the team, and good for the player.
It’s very, very difficult to play under the circumstances that Kemp is playing under. The thing we have to look at is, is there going to be a fit? Is he going to be able to get past the public scrutiny? Matt has to wonder, ‘If these guys don’t like me, how can I play for them?’”
This seems like a fair question. Ned Colletti said this in response:
“Our coaching staff only wants the best for the kid. Are they too hard on him? That’s a matter of opinion. But if there’s a miscommunication, we’re all adults here, let’s put everybody in a room and work it out.”
It is doubtful that this is what Kemp and his agent were looking for, but it’s not surprising coming from Colletti. This is the same general manager who went on the radio on April 28th, a few weeks into the year, to rip Kemp’s defensive effort:
“Why is it? Because he got a new deal?…Can’t tell you. But you know, it’s below-average. If this is the last day of the season and people are voting for the Gold Glove, his name is not even on the ballot. It’s a shame that he would go from where he was a year ago to revert back to when the ball goes up in the air and you’re not sure where it’s going, or if it’s going to get caught.”
If Brian Cashman went on WFAN and said something like that about one of our young players a few weeks into the year, I would have a coronary. To be sure, Kemp is having a down year, but it comes on the heels of the beginning of a solid career in Dodger blue. As a 22 year old, Kemp hit .342/.373/.521 line over 300 plate appearances. The following year he regressed slightly, hitting .290/.340/.459. Of course, this was his first full season as a major leaguer, and he OPSed .799 as a 23-year-old. Last year he improved, hitting .297/.352/.490. Things were looking up for Kemp, but this year has been a disappointment. He’s hitting only .263/.319/.458.
Kemp’s calling card has never been his ability to take walks, and he has the tendency to strike out at a decent rate. Over the course of his career, he has a 7.0% walk rate and a 25% K rate. Yet he’s been able to make up for that with a prodigiously high BABIP; his career average is 0.352. This year it has fallen to 0.314. I don’t know enough about Kemp to draw conclusions about what to expect from a BABIP perspective going forward, but it at least seems notable that his line drive rate has fallen only a tick in 2010.
His defense in center has been middle-of-the-road. His year-by-year UZR totals up to this season are -7.0, 1.0, -1.2, 3.1. This year it has fallen drastically, down to -15.3. Of course, most astute readers of UZR and advanced defensive statistics know that it’s desirable to take as large of a sample as possible, especially when it comes to defense. Ideally, one would like at least 3 years worth of data. So a broader reading of the data suggests that Kemp probably isn’t a -15.3 UZR defender in center going forward. Ned Colletti should know that, and he had no business criticizing Kemp’s defense weeks into the year. Kemp’s main defensive skill is his arm, and his UZR score is mostly brought down by his range. Given his arm and body type, he may profile as a right fielder as his career progresses.
So here we are: Matt Kemp is an uber-talented outfielder who, by virtue of a down year, has become the whipping boy for Joe Torre and his band of merry men in Los Angeles. Now, Ned Colletti recently stated that he had no intention of dealing Kemp, saying “No, I have no plans to trade [Kemp]…He’s got a chance to be one of the best players in the history of the franchise” (sic). However, there are obviously no guarantees that Colletti is telling the truth or that he won’t change his mind. Saying that Kemp has the potential to be one of the greatest players in Dodgers’ history could be a simple attempt to increase leverage. So how likely is it that they deal him? If they do decide to deal him, what would the cost be? Would the Yankees be a good trade partner?
All things considered, I doubt that the Dodgers will move Kemp. The smart money is on the Dodgers parting ways with Joe Torre and Larry Bowa after the 2010 season and finding someone who can work with their young struggling star. Kemp isn’t cheap, but he’s not overpriced, and if the Dodgers can get him to be a 3-4 WAR player (he was worth 5 WAR in 2009), then they will have a great return on their investment over the next two years. Yet, individuals aren’t always rational. You wouldn’t expect the general manager of a professional baseball club to publicly rip his star player’s defensive effort after a few weeks of performance and question his motivation, but Colletti did it. You wouldn’t expect the manager of the club and his cronies to criticize him through the media and bench him for games at a time, but Torre and Bowa did it. So if the Dodgers decide to move Kemp, what would the price be?
I’m not a prospect maven, and I’m reminded that my trade proposal sucks, so I’m not going to hazard a guess. From the Yankees’ perspective I find it hard to imagine that they could acquire Kemp without dealing Granderson to the Dodgers or to another club, from both a roster perspective and a salary perspective. This is particularly true if Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte are brought back at anything close to what they’re making in 2010 and if Lee is in pinstripes next year. Yesterday I detailed how high our payroll could potentially be, and Kemp is fairly expensive as it is.
Before the season, Kemp signed a 2-year deal worth 10.95M. This deal pays him $4M in 2010 and $6.95M in 2011. After the 2011 season, Kemp becomes eligible for arbitration a third time. That year will represent his final year of team control, and Kemp will hit the free agent market after the 2012 season as a 28 year old in his physical prime. Looking at Kemp’s 2011 salary, I hazarded a guess of ~$8.5M for his 2012 arbitration figure and ran it by Mike Axisa from RAB. He had this to say: “Yeah, that sounds about right. Maybe $9M tops. He’s capable of having a HUGE year next year, like .300/.380/.550 with 30 steals and GG defense, so there’s always a chance he shoots way past that salary level. It’s just unlikely.”
Trading for Matt Kemp this offseason means you are getting him for two years for around $15.5M. By way of reference, here are Kemp and Granderson’s salaries salaries side-by-side:
2011 – Kemp: $6.95M. Granderson: $8.25M
2012 – Kemp: ~$8.5M. Granderson: $10M
2013 – Kemp: FA. Granderson: $13M club option with $2M buyout.
So Curtis Granderson will cost approximately $2.8M more over the next two years than Kemp, or $4.8 if you factor in the cost of the buyout. Given that, what would be a reasonable package for Kemp? What would you surrender to acquire him? Would you send a package of Granderson, Chamberlain and some lower level prospects? Would you offer to assume some of Granderson’s contract in return for surrendering lesser prospects? Give it your best shot, but try not to low ball it. If the Dodgers decide to deal Kemp, the market could be hot and the Yankees surely won’t be the only suitor. Not every club would be dumb enough to treat Kemp like the Dodgers have.
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