Friday, October 15, 2010

The Dodgers, Matt Kemp and a trade

Matt Kemp is possibly the most talented position player the Los Angeles Dodgers have ever had. His raw talent and ability is second to none. He was once compared to Manny Ramirez with much, much better defense while coming up through the minors.

So why do I get the sinking feeling he will not be a Dodger in 2011 and beyond? There are a lot of reasons:
  • His "I don't care" attitude, blown way out of proportion by the media
  • Ned Colletti seemingly just does not like the guy
  • Dave Stewart, his agent, made some disparaging comments about Colletti's criticism
  • Kemp, despite being locked in at an affordable rate, is getting nearly a $3 million raise
  • The divorce proceedings of the McCourts are no help
  • He is the most valuable trade chip this side of Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier
The Washington Post reported the Nationals would have interest in Kemp if he were made available. You don't say? Who wouldn't be interested in an immensely talented 26-year-old center fielder coming off a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2009?

In spite of all this, I'd say there's better than a 50 percent chance Kemp is traded this off-season. The only way I'd agree with such a move is if it brought equal value in return. However, that is never the case with a player coming off a down season.

Kemp, with his top-10 NL MVP voting finish in 2009, was primed for a huge season. He started off the 2001 campaign on fire only to fizzle out and finish with a .249/.310/.450 line. His strikeout rate increased, all his averages decreased and one of the most alarming stats -- his stolen base percentage plummeted. After going 69-for-88 (78.4 percent) in his last two seasons, he was 19-for-33 (57.6 percent) this season.

Trading Kemp would be a step backward for the Dodgers. He is far from the problem on a team that disappointed greatly this season. The numbers show it was a fluke. He even predicted a 40-40 season in 2011. This is assuming the Dodgers wouldn't get close to fair value.

Now, if the Cardinals come to the Dodgers and say, "We'll give you Albert Pujols in a deal involving Matt Kemp, James Loney and prospects," the Dodgers would be foolish not to explore a deal. But how likely is that?

A deal that could make sense for the Dodgers is a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Rays' principle owner Stuart Sternberg said the team will cut payroll significantly. The Rays had a $72 million payroll this season. Sternberg wants that number around $50 million. The Rays are losing expensive veterans in Carl Crawford (who would look great in Dodger Blue, but that's a pipe dream), Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena.

Still, the Rays would need to trim some salary.

So what about this proposal:

To Tampa Bay: Matt Kemp, Kyle Russell
To Los Angeles: B.J. Upton, Matt Garza

Why this works for Tampa: Garza made $3.35 million in 2010 and that number will go up (potentially to $6 or $7 million). Upton made $3 million in '10 and, like Garza, could see his salary jump to the $6 to $7 million range, annually. The Rays have a glut of young pitchers ready to take Garza's spot in the rotation -- Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann (the latter two would move up in the rotation). Kemp would replace Upton in center field. Plus, Upton has had his work ethic called into question on more than one occasion. Kemp is slated to make $6.95 million in 2011 before one final year of arbitration. They also get a big-time power-hitting prospect in Russell.

Why this works for L.A.: Upton is incredibly talented -- perhaps even more than Kemp -- but he has yet to put it all together. However, his glove in center field would be an upgrade over Kemp. Garza could replace free agents Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly and/or Vicente Padilla. The Dodgers, despite the ownership issues, are still in a better position to add salary than the Rays.

But back to reality. If a deal like the one outlined above went down, I don't think I'd be totally against it or pissed off. But with Kemp coming off a poor season, the Dodgers would have to view a deal that's close to equal value as a miracle.

I'm prepared for the Dodgers to trade Kemp. I probably won't agree with it, but I have mentally prepared myself for the seemingly inevitable day when I read on Twitter, "Kemp traded to TEAM." And you can bet when that day comes, I'll be here to bitch about the move -- or praise it. Yeah, right.

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