Los Angeles Dodgers: Is Matt Kemp Closer to 2011 Superstardom or Trade Bait?

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Los Angeles Dodgers: Is Matt Kemp Closer to 2011 Superstardom or Trade Bait?
Harry How/Getty Images

A player that appeared on the brink of superstardom, Matt Kemp had a very disappointing 2010 season and now finds himself in the midst of trade rumors.  

Los Angeles, however, ranked in the bottom half of the National League in batting average, runs and home runs last season. They should hold off on trading the athletic 26-year-old center fielder unless he continues his struggles in 2011 and the Dodgers can acquire enough talent in return. 

After a fantastic all-around season in 2009, Kemp seemed well on his way to becoming one of the top players in the game. He had just turned 25 years old and was coming off an All-Star season in which he set career-highs in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, stolen base percentage and outfield assists. He helped the Dodgers win more games than any other team in the National League. 

A true five-tool-player, Kemp had extremely high expectations heading into the 2010 season. He got off to a good start, hitting seven home runs, to go along with 20 RBI and 19 runs, in his first 14 games, but he tailed off towards the end of April and could never find his groove throughout the rest of the season. 

Here is a comparison of Kemp's statistics over the last two seasons:

Year   R    HR   RBI  SB   BA  OPS   

Matt Kemp led all National League outfielders with 14 assists in 2009. He had just three in 2010.

2009   97    26   101   34  .297  .842           

2010   82    28    89    19  .249  .760               

As you can see, Matt Kemp played nearly the same amount of games in 2010 as he did in 2009, but his performance declined in every category above except home runs.

The most telling statistics above are Kemp's lower batting average, stolen bases, and outfield assists. At 6'4", 225 pounds, he impressed scouts in 2009 with his amazing athletic ability, but he regressed significantly and had just an average season at best in 2010 among major league center fielders. 

Just one season after helping the Dodgers win a National League-high 95 games in 2009, Kemp could not keep the Dodgers from falling to fourth place in the National League West, 80-82 overall. 

Kemp’s mediocre 2010 campaign came as a huge surprise to scouts and fans, especially considering that he had steadily improved statistically each year since being called up to the big leagues in 2006.  

Although it was clear early on that Kemp was not the same player he had been in 2009, he was unwilling to listen to criticism and was stubborn as far as changing his approach to hitting and fielding. 

By the end of April, Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti began questioning Kemp’s effort--particularly in the outfield. Soon afterwards, Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer and third-base coach Larry Bowa became frustrated with Kemp's work ethic. 

Nick Laham/Getty Images
Matt Kemp struck out 170 times in 2010, fifth most in the National League.

Perhaps much of Kemp's struggles stemmed from the fact that he had so suddenly entered the unfamiliar territory of being in the spotlight of a big city.   

Kemp, who was born and raised in Midwest City, Okla., was a small-town kid prior to being drafted by the Dodgers.  

However, after a big season in 2009 that included his first All-Star appearance, as well as Silver Slugger Award honors, Kemp quickly joined the ranks of the big-time L.A. celebrities.

Kemp was frequently spotted at Los Angeles night clubs during the season and also dated pop star Rihanna for nearly the entire 2010 calendar year. 

Kemp's newfound fame may have affected his ability to focus during games, as well as his motivation to reach superstardom. 

All of this leads to the question should the Dodgers keep Kemp next season? 

Kemp is still a naturally gifted athlete and at just 26 years old should still have his best seasons ahead of him.  

In just the past four months alone, Kemp's situation and attitude have both changed dramatically. 

Kemp and Rihanna reportedly broke up in late December, so he should be able to stay out of TMZ tabloids, at least for the time being. 

After a slew of drama throughout most of the 2010 season, Kemp and GM Colletti are reportedly on good terms and spoke with each other frequently throughout the offseason.  

Los Angeles hired former Dodger Davey Lopes to coach first base, as well as hitting coach Jeff Pentland, both of whom have worked closely with Kemp to get him ready for the 2011 season. 

Kemp has had a very good spring training thus far, having already hit four home runs to go along with a batting average over .300. 

"He seems great," Mattingly said. "I shouldn't say 'seems,' because he's been great." 

Most importantly, Kemp finally appears motivated to get back on track and help the Dodgers win.

"Last year was a very disappointing season, personally and team-wise," he said. "I felt like I failed in some way. This year, I'm going to try to make sure that doesn't happen again, that we get back to the playoffs and get to where we should be."  

Kemp's disappointing 2010 season severely hurt his market value, so trading him at this point does not make much sense, assuming that he could only improve in 2011. 

Kemp is owed $6.95 million in 2011 and will be a free agent after the season, so Los Angeles should keep Kemp unless he performs poorly. 

Besides, the Dodgers don't have a lot of depth at the center field position behind Kemp. Backup outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. has played over 200 games at center field over the last two seasons, but he has shown few signs of being comfortable at the plate. 

Newly acquired Dodgers outfielder Marcus Thames, who has hit 94 home runs since 2006, is another option. He has never played center field at the big league level, however, and has spent much of his time as a designated hitter over the last several seasons.           

While Kemp may have hurt his reputation in 2010 due to his breakup with Rihanna, his improved relationship with the Dodgers' staff and his new-found motivation should help to change that.

As a result of Kemp's potential to help the team this season, Los Angeles should hold onto him because the risk is definitely worth the reward. 

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