Of course, when you already have a surplus of expensive outfielders on your roster, everyone becomes available for the right price.
Kemp has been the source of much trade speculation this offseason. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported the former National League All-Star was getting a lot of attention at the winter meetings:
The #Dodgers getting plenty of action on Matt Kemp but say a deal unlikely to be consummated at winter meetings.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 11, 2013
Dave Stewart, who represents Kemp, told ESPN's Jayson Stark that the Dodgers don't plan to move Kemp this offseason:
Who knows what's really going on behind the scenes in Hollywood?
All of this uncertainty has piqued our interest, getting us to think about which teams could make a deal for Kemp. These are teams with money to absorb Kemp's contract, prospects to offer the Dodgers and a need in center field.
Putting together packages for Kemp is more difficult than it might seem, because no one knows how healthy he is heading into spring training. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume he can be the MVP candidate from 2011 once again.
Trade proposal: Red Sox trade LHP Henry Owens, C Blake Swihart, 3B Garin Cecchini to Dodgers for OF Matt Kemp
It took me doing this piece to fully understand how much depth the Red Sox have in their farm system right now. I knew it was good, but I hadn't fully dived into organizational stuff.
They could pull this trade off and still be in great shape long term, which is not something a lot of teams can say.
The Red Sox lost center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency and will enter 2014 with Jackie Bradley Jr. as the starter. He is a great defensive player with a great offensive approach and on-base skills, so it's not like they are going from caviar to garbage.
However, entrusting such an important position to an unknown player is something a team like the Red Sox, with World Series aspirations once again, may not be ready to fully commit to. Bradley is more ready to play this year than when he made the 25-man roster out of spring training last year.
But adding Kemp to an already loaded roster of position players that includes Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts would give this offense the potential to score 900 runs.
In return, the Dodgers are able to fill one area of critical need in the organization (catcher), get a high-upside left-handed starter who had a tremendous season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, and a third baseman who projects to be an average MLB player very soon.
There are two things I don't like about this deal.
First, it's built around quantity instead of superstar quality. I could have changed that by including Bogaerts instead of, say, Garin Cecchini, but the Red Sox aren't trading six years of Bogaerts after what he showed in the World Series.
Second, even though they have the money to make it work, the Red Sox's reluctance to add long-term contracts in the last 12 months makes Kemp a bad fit. He's still owed $128 million through 2019.
That said, it's still a deal where both sides come out ahead. The Red Sox wouldn't bankrupt themselves, either financially or in prospects, to get potentially one of the best players in the sport for his age 29-34 seasons.
The Dodgers would be able to open up some payroll flexibility, if they are even close to approaching a spending limit, and create a lot more organizational depth by adding three really good prospects who are close enough to start contributing at the MLB level in late 2014 or 2015.
Trade proposal: Rangers trade 2B Rougned Odor, SS Luis Sardinas, 3B Joey Gallo to Dodgers for OF Matt Kemp
Of the five teams I have listed as potential destinations for Matt Kemp, the Texas Rangers have the best package to offer thanks to their up-the-middle depth in the big leagues and upper levels of the minors.
I debated whether to build the Dodgers' return around second baseman Rougned Odor or catcher Jorge Alfaro. Odor won out because I can see Texas being more willing to deal him with Jurickson Profar poised to take over the starting job in Arlington.
Odor certainly has the talent to headline a blockbuster deal, coming off a tremendous season split between High-A and Double-A. As a 19-year-old, he hit .305/.365/.474 with 58 extra-base hits and improved defense. He's got true All-Star potential and maturity beyond his age.
The Dodgers will also get two high-ceiling, albeit volatile prospects in Luis Sardinas and Joey Gallo.
Sardinas has been a personal favorite of mine after a firsthand look during the 2012 Arizona Fall League. His defense at shortstop has the potential to be incredible, with range for days and plus arm strength/accuracy. The bat is less favorable due to a slight frame and some injury problems in the past, though he did play in 126 games last season.
There might not be a player with a wider gap between present ability and future ceiling than Gallo. He's got the best raw power in the minors, and arguably all of baseball. He hit 40 homers in 111 games last season, but also struck out 172 times in 411 at-bats.
He also projects to be an above-average defender at third base. If there is any way Gallo can cut down the strikeouts to 130-140 in 500 at-bats, he's going to be a star. We just don't have the evidence it will happen...yet.
For the Rangers, who have been busy this offseason trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo, adding one more impact bat to a much-improved lineup would make them easy favorites in the AL West.
Again, they wouldn't be trading away their entire farm system to land Kemp. They have depth in the minors and get to keep one of their top two prospects (Alfaro), so they aren't mortgaging everything.
The money isn't a huge burden for the Rangers right now, especially with $80 million per season coming in from a new television deal that starts after next season.
Trade proposal: Blue Jays trade RHP Aaron Sanchez and RHP Marcus Stroman to Dodgers for OF Matt Kemp
This is going to be the most appealing package to the Dodgers, though it has flaws that might require at least one more piece coming back. The main flaw is L.A. has a lot of pitching and could use some position players, but you forget that when you see the ceilings of the players in this deal.
Aaron Sanchez is just one year removed from being a top-20 prospect. And at just 21 years old, it's not like the right-hander has dropped off the radar. He'll probably slot in the 35-50 range on most 2014 lists.
Some of the bloom is off Sanchez's rose, however, because of mechanical changes made last year that keep him more upright to the plate, making his already spotty control even more erratic. He's an athletic kid with good arm action, so there is no reason to think some simple coaching can't bring his stock back up.
The Dodgers would also get one heck of an insurance policy in the form of Marcus Stroman. The diminutive right-hander has his detractors, mainly those who don't think his 5'9" frame can handle 180-200 innings per season, but everything else points to a No. 2 starter.
Stroman has one of the best fastball-slider combinations in the minors, pumping the heater in at 92-94 with movement and breaking knees with the slide piece. He also throws a changeup that has progressed to the point it looks like an above-average pitch.
In an absolute worst-case scenario, Stroman will be a top-flight closer. But I can see his mentality and aggressive attitude being able to start 30-35 times in a season with no questions asked.
This deal would rob the Blue Jays of their top two prospects, something they reportedly wouldn't do when discussing a trade for Jeff Samardzija, but good depth throughout the system and a need to win now at the MLB level make it an easier pill to swallow.
It also helps that Kemp is signed through 2019, while Samardzija can hit free agency after 2015.
Colby Rasmus is still under team control but will be a free agent after 2014, and the team may not want to sign him to a long-term deal given his erratic career trajectory.
Matt Kemp would also allow the Blue Jays to shop Rasmus around, something general manager Alex Anthopoulos has already reportedly done, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, in order to acquire starting pitching depth for the team.
Anthopoulos is likely fighting to keep his job beyond 2014, so some creative measures have to be taken for the Blue Jays to contend in the hyper-competitive AL East.
Trade proposal: Mariners trade C Mike Zunino, RHP Taijuan Walker, 3B D.J. Peterson to Dodgers for OF Matt Kemp, LHP Julio Urias
My last two trade proposals, starting with Seattle's, take a different, more fantasy-related approach than anything else.
If you don't think the Mariners would part with five years of control over Mike Zunino and six years of control over Taijuan Walker and D.J. Peterson, you clearly haven't been paying attention to what they are doing this winter.
That's not to say the Mariners have had a perfect offseason—far from it—but they are clearly trying to open a window that has been nailed shut for the better part of a decade. They've tried to add power by signing Corey Hart and trading for Logan Morrison, but they've sacrificed any semblance of athleticism in the process.
Robinson Cano will be a superstar and one of the best players in baseball for at least the next three years, but the Mariners need to do a better job of surrounding him with talent.
Matt Kemp is the perfect solution for what they need. He can slot behind Cano in the batting order, steal 30-40 bases to create more RBI opportunities for Hart and Morrison, and provide decent defense in center field.
I also put 17-year-old Julio Urias in the deal. He was one of the biggest stories in the minors last year, throwing 54.1 impressive innings in the Midwest League against players who, in most cases, were four or five years older than him.
Physical projection holds Urias back, but if he's already able to perform at a high level against more advanced hitters, it's not a stretch to think he could turn into a quality mid-rotation arm down the road.
Making the finances work could be a problem, but when you are trying to convince people you are a major player in one of the best divisions in baseball, getting creative is paramount to success.
In return, the Dodgers get a starting catcher in Zunino who can slide into a starting role next season and brings a lot of upside as a 22-year-old. He's got a lot of improvements to make offensively, but his .620 OPS in 2013 wasn't that much worse than 32-year-old A.J. Ellis' .682 mark.
Walker gives the Dodgers a young, high-ceiling arm to plug in right behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Since Walker won't cost much money for at least the next three years, the Dodgers can use those savings to lock up Kershaw for the rest of his career.
D.J. Peterson is a prospect I'm not enamored with because I'm not sold on how the power will play, and there's a decent chance he ends up moving to first base.
That said, Peterson has a very good, natural hit tool and boasts above-average raw power that gives some optimism. He's also got the arm strength for third base but lacks athleticism and range, which could hinder him moving forward.
He's still a solid prospect with a bright future and should move through a system quickly as a polished college hitter. Peterson isn't eligible to be traded until June as a 2013 draftee, so that could turn into a major sticking point in the deal.
Before everyone cries foul on this deal, allow me to explain my rationale behind it. I wanted to find a scenario where the Nationals could get Matt Kemp, because they have a need in center field after Denard Span had a poor season in 2013.
However, a straight deal between the Nationals and Dodgers became hard to concoct unless it was just Giolito for Kemp. The Dodgers likely wouldn't have any interest in that, especially with Giolito just starting to return from Tommy John surgery.
So I decided to solve three organizational needs by crafting what amounts to a three-team deal, even though the trades would occur separately from each other.
The Cubs are stocked with position players in their minor league system. Javier Baez is the best of the bunch, but given the likelihood he ends up at third base, and Kris Bryant possibly being able to handle the spot, the Cubs could dangle their top prospect.
One area the Cubs are severely lacking in right now is starting pitching, especially the high-upside variety. The Nationals can offer Giolito and, just as extra insurance in case something should happen, right-hander A.J. Cole.
Both players fit the bill of workhorse starters, though Cole's control issues and inconsistent breaking ball could make him a reliever. This gives the Cubs exactly what they need without doing much overall damage to the depth at the top of their farm system.
Once that deal is consummated, the Nationals would flip the newly acquired Baez and toolsy-but-inconsistent outfielder Brian Goodwin to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp.
Kemp would give the Nationals that big middle-of-the-order bat they need to slot behind Bryce Harper. He would also allow the Nationals to explore trade options for Span, who has tremendous value as a plus defender in center field.
The Nationals' system would feel the sting of losing Giolito, Cole and, per this trade, Baez and Goodwin because they don't have much depth at the top anymore, but this is a team geared toward winning now.
Plus, especially after the acquisition of Doug Fister, the Nationals have as much starting depth in the big leagues as any team outside of St. Louis. They can get away with trading high-upside arms like Giolito and Cole because Fister, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez are under control through at least 2015.
The Dodgers would get back a top-10 prospect in Baez, who could take over at shortstop if the team wants to move Hanley Ramirez to third base. They could also keep Ramirez at shortstop and put Baez at third base.
Baez's offensive upside is tremendous, with plus-plus power projections and bat speed that's been known to make grown men cry. He's still got work to do finding an approach and getting more consistent with the glove, but there's so much to love about him that you put up with the flaws.
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