Matt Kemp is the total package. He’s a legitimate five-tool player, he’s only 25 years old, and coming into this season, Kemp had to be on the short list of potential NL MVP candidates not named Albert Pujols .
Make no mistake, this was no big-market hype job. Kemp was one of the best players in the game last year and the prevailing thought from nearly everyone was that the best was yet to come.
So just what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with Kemp now riding the bench for the Dodgers as a healthy scratch?
Kemp didn’t get the start in Sunday’s nationally televised interleague finale against the Yankees. He sat again on Monday as LA opened a crucial series with the rival Giants in San Francisco. And he might just be sitting again on Tuesday as the set with the Giants continues.
I don’t think there’s any question that skipper Joe Torre is trying to send a strong message to Kemp. Fact is, Kemp is playing at a level far below his capabilities and he’s actually been getting worse as the season progresses.
It’s not just the disappointing numbers, although that’s a good place to start. Kemp is hitting a meager .258. He has managed 12 HR and 10 SB, so it’s not as though he’s been totally invisible. But his plate discipline has not been all that good, and the rest of Kemp’s game has been just plain lousy. Defensive blunders, baserunning gaffes, and worst of all, what seems to be a very nonchalant attitude.
I could be off the mark on that last count. Kemp is one of those remarkably gifted athletes who is so talented he can actually make difficult plays look easy. He’s got that rare ability to simply glide at top speed.
But in viewing most of the Dodger games this season, my take on Kemp is that he just seems to not have a whole lot of focus. That is apparently not a unique viewpoint. It sure seems like his manager might just be feeling the same way.
Kemp has been miserable in June. For the month, he’s hitting a woeful .196 while playing a very inadequate center field. The low point came on the bases last Wednesday, when he was picked off second base in a crucial situation against the Angels. Torre was none too pleased about it. When Kemp followed that blunder up with eight whiffs in 12 AB over the next three games, the manager decided to give his struggling CF a night off on Sunday.
But getting another night off on Monday was another story. Kemp has pretty much owned Barry Zito , the Monday night starter for the Giants. No offense intended to replacement Reed Johnson , particularly given his ability to damage southpaws, but there were plenty of raised eyebrows when Kemp ended up relaxing in the dugout in what was a pretty big game for the Dodgers.
I’m not about to go off the deep end and suggest Kemp is suddenly on the trading block. It’s way too soon for that speculation. Yet, at the same time, I can’t simply dismiss the possibility.
Kemp is due the majority of his two-year, roughly $11 million in 2011. Assuming he gets his game together, Kemp will cost a boatload of bucks once this contract expires, and we all know the Dodgers are no longer among baseball’s big spenders. The organization isn’t barren of big time prospects, but it’s not exactly loaded with blue chippers, either.
The fact is Kemp is the best trade piece the Dodgers own at this time, and I’m not sure management is all that enamored with the fact Kemp has developed what is clearly being perceived as a Hollywood personality.
If I were to set odds on whether or not Kemp will be dealt this season, I would make the “won’t go” a substantial favorite. Despite his recent slump and questions about his focus and mindset, Kemp is an absolute stud.
Dealing players with his already established track record along with a seemingly unlimited ceiling is simply not smart, and I can’t imagine the Dodgers would overreact and send him packing.
But then again, I didn’t envision the Dodgers refusing to even try and improve themselves this winter. Nor did I expect them to, in all likelihood, waste their first-round draft choice on a player almost certain to be heading off to college to play football. In other words, stay tuned for details on this one
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