Dodgers Nixing Matt Kemp Trade Rumors a Prudent Move for 2014

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Dodgers Nixing Matt Kemp Trade Rumors a Prudent Move for 2014
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

In an offseason filled with MLB teams swapping superstars as if they were playing cards, it appears arguably the best available player will be staying put.

Dave Stewart, the agent for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, told reporters at baseball's annual winter meetings on Wednesday that club general manager Ned Colletti informed him that Kemp wouldn't be traded before the 2014 season.

“He said that they’re not going to move him,” Stewart said, via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times“He never wanted to leave."

That stance represents a stark contrast from Stewart's tone over the weekend. With Kemp's name being floated as a potential trade chip almost since the moment the Dodgers' season ended, Stewart, a former big league pitcher, seemed convinced that his client was on the precipice of being jettisoned from Chavez Ravine.

"I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen," Stewart said Sunday, per Hernandez. "I haven't heard a player's name floated around like that and something not happen."

Kemp, 29, has played his entire career for the Dodgers. When asked why the Dodgers changed their stance on what seemed to be like a foregone conclusion, Stewart seemed to have as many answers as you or I.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

“We didn’t get into specifics and details,” Stewart said. “I asked him a direct question and he gave me a direct answer. The specifics of why he didn’t want to move him, he didn’t get into."

While Colletti and Kemp's representation didn't get into specifics, the motivation behind keeping Kemp seems obvious: The Dodgers didn't like the names thrown their way.

There was no secret that a deal was not only a possibility but a likelihood. With all 30 teams convening to Lake Buena Vista, Fla. this week and executives hot-potatoing deals—deals both realized and never discussed again—it's clear that Colletti heard more from the latter than the former.

It's not as if Kemp had a lack of ties to other organizations. The Mariners, Tigers and Red Sox are known to have expressed interest in making a deal, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. Those are three teams with pretty deep pockets, prospects in their system and holes to fill in the outfield. It seems, then, that the Dodgers would be able to make out some sort of swap, right?

Not necessarily. Because, looking at the tea leaves, it seems apparent that these teams low-balled themselves out of the conversation.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

From the outside, the Dodgers looked almost desperate to move Kemp. And for mostly obvious reasons. Yasiel Puig's emergence coupled with the inexplicable $85 million Andre Ethier contract extension gives the Dodgers four outfielders who expect to start—Puig, Kemp, Ethier and the also-expensive Carl Crawford.

In total value, Los Angeles has roughly $58.75 million in base salary invested in its four outfielders for next season. That's more than what the Tampa Bay Rays spent on their entire roster in 2013. Keep in mind that figure includes Puig's dirt-cheap $2 million base deal, which makes the Kemp-Ethier-Crawford trio look better than it really is.

Team Salary
Oakland Athletics $60.66 million
Dodgers Outfield (2014) $58.75 million
Tampa Bay Rays $57.89 million
Miami Marlins $36.41 million
Houston Astros $22.06 million

USA Today

The Dodgers' new ownership group has made a splash by spending riches like Queen Latifah in Last Holiday—no judgesies; it's the holiday season—but the team isn't run by buffoons. The Dodgers recognize that, with Adrian Gonzalez manning first base, there is no spot to hide the leftover outfielder when playing fellow National League clubs. Magic Johnson might be flush with cash, but he's sure as hell not going to pay Ethier $15 million to pinch hit and platoon when one of the other three need a rest.

That's Step 1 in the Trade Inevitability Cycle. Step 2 defines Kemp as the odd man out, for the simple reason he's the only one who's actually tradeable. Teams don't have interest in Crawford or Ethier. Their exorbitant contracts (more than $35 million combined for 2014) are poison pills that far outweigh either player's effectiveness.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Crawford's once-promising career has been derailed by injuries. Even in a relatively "healthy" season in 2013, he still missed 46 games and he's been mostly a shell of himself for the past three years. He finished almost as a three-win player in 2013, but that came after two negative-wins seasons with Boston.

At age 32, it's fair to be wary about Crawford's ability to reach peak performance again or even stay healthy enough to match this past season.

Ethier's deal is just confusing. He's a solid and somewhat underrated hitter at this point, but he's an eyesore in the field. American League teams would take him in a vacuum, but it's unlikely they'd give up much in value or be willing to take on even 75 percent of his salary.

Puig just isn't getting traded.

That leaves Kemp, who at one point could have gotten a monstrous haul good enough to single-handedly replenish the Dodgers' farm system.

In 2011, Kemp was the man who didn't cheat to have his otherworldly offensive season. He hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 steals on an otherwise forgettable team. Only Jacoby Ellsbury had a higher WAR, and Kemp finished fourth in baseball in wRC+, which normalizes run creation for park conditions and other factors.

Put another way, he was one of the handful of best offensive players in baseball whose trajectory seemed to be going in a positive direction.

Only that hasn't happened.

Kemp's been mired with injury the past two seasons, missing 145 games. While his production was still close to elite in 2012 despite a serious shoulder injury, he was pretty much a shell of himself before being shut down in 2013. In 73 games, Kemp hit .270/328/.395 with just six home runs and nine steals; he actually returned negative value.

If a Dodgers-Kemp divorce was inevitable, this is the worst possible time for it to happen. It's the sports equivalent to dating a down-on-their-luck pop star and dumping them right before they made their platinum comeback.

But because the Dodgers have a logjam, teams rightfully saw them as having no other choice. If you want something—anything—of value in return and don't want to eat three-quarters of a contract, take our sixth- and ninth-best prospects and a veteran platoon guy in return. It's a sound strategy in theory; I'd buy low on 100 shares of Kemp stock if I could.

That's also what makes the Dodgers' decision to keep Kemp in the interim look smart. Even if they're stuck paying for an outfield situation that's unsustainable, this team still prints money; it can afford to take the hit, even if it's not the most fiscally responsible move. Kemp is going to perform better than he did in 2013, and his value may even skyrocket if he has a complete return to form.

And even if having four outfielders for three spots makes Don Mattingly's life difficult, perhaps inertia could save the logjam. Kemp and Crawford have their known issues, and Puig plays a style that's just asking for a break or tear—as unfortunate as that may be. The Dodgers didn't miss a beat without Kemp in 2013 precisely because they had capable replacements. That situation could play itself out again next season.

Either way, trading Kemp for a relative bag of beans just to make things easier isn't the answer. Kemp is worth more, and apparently the Dodgers know that.

 

Note: All advanced stats are via FanGraphs.

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