Matt Kemp is no stranger to the confines of Chavez Ravine. The first nine years of his career were spent playing for the Dodgers where he was a two-time All-Star, two time Gold Glove winner, two time Silver Slugger recipient, and runner-up in the MVP voting in 2011. And, after three years away from Los Angeles, Kemp finds himself on the Dodgers roster yet again and it may not be a bad thing if he just stayed there.
When Matt Kemp was acquired by the Dodgers, there was no intention to keep him. Andrew Friedman made it clear from the get-go that he wanted to trade or release Kemp and would even include a prospect or two to entice a team to take on the $40 million dollars that come with the 33-year-old left fielder. But, with no trade market developing, it may be in Friedman and the front office’s best interest to just hold onto Kemp and make him the seasoned veteran off the bench that now free agent, Chase Utley, once was.
There is no doubt that the ideal move is to get Kemp onto a new team. If the front office can pull off the miracle move then, by all means, do it. But, the reality is, any trade involving Kemp at this point would be incredibly difficult to pull off mainly because of the money he is still owed. Matt Kemp is currently sitting on a huge contract that he signed just after his MVP runner-up season. Over the next, and final, two years of that deal, he is owed $40 million that nobody, including the Dodgers, want to pay. Most of the time teams are looking to get “bang for the buck” and Kemp’s $40 million is as far from that as possible.
So, given the fact that a trade is unlikely and the need for a Chase Utley replacement still at large, Kemp actually seems like the perfect fit.
Put the money aside for a second. The Dodgers are under the luxury tax for the first time in years and that includes Kemp’s monstrosity of a contract. Matt Kemp is not a bad baseball player by any stretch of the imagination. Last year, he hit .276 with 19 home runs and 69 RBI’s. His atrocious WAR of -1.4 looks so bad not because of his offensive output but because of his defensive inability.
Kemp is not what he used to be in the field. The 33-year-old who was once a gold-glover is no longer running into walls robbing home runs like he so famously did when he played in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, he has become more of a liability than anything as his defense has lead to runs for the opposition and injuries and DL time for Kemp.
All of those things, the good bat, and the bad defense are the recipe for a great bench presence. Picture someone who Dave Roberts could go to for a big at-bat or even to come in for a few innings of defense and probably get the job done. Kemp would almost definitely do a better job than Utley did last year with the bat and if he were to get the same amount of defensive reps as Utley did, he might not look so bad or be hurt as often.
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Something else to keep in mind here is Kemp plays left field a spot that is in a way, vacated for the Dodgers. With Ethier gone, Pederson’s abilities still up in the air, and Toles a huge question mark, the Dodgers may be able to take comfort from the fact the Kemp is able to fill in if needed.
The final thing that must be addressed is not a stat or an on-field skill, it is his attitude. Kemp has a pretty poor reputation for using his words just a little too much. He has said things like “Los Angeles is not a baseball town” and he has also made remarks about the guys he was teammates with. That, in no way shape or form, fills the hole Utley leaves. If Kemp is to stay in LA it would have to be with a new attitude. He would need to realize that he is not the superstar he once was and would need to learn to mentor the young and upcoming players currently on the roster.
In the end, it would be a real shame to see the Dodgers just drop Kemp. They would be paying him the money he is owed upfront and would not even get to see him swing the bat. If there really is no market I really do believe that Kemp is a good fit for the Dodgers bench. If things really do not work out and the front office has given him a real shot, releasing him feels more acceptable. But, for me, Matt Kemp may just be a very expensive blessing in disguise.