In just a few hours, we will have some closure on the 2011 baseball season. The National League MVP will be the final award announced and could potentially be the icing on the cake of Matt Kemp's season.
The announcement will come just days after Kemp inked his John Hancock on an eight-year, $160 million deal that will keep him in Dodger blue through the 2018 season.
There’s no arguing that there is great risk involved when an organization guarantees a human being this much Gruyere for this long. I am, for now, a fan of the move, though I prefer to cheat when evaluating the success of a contract. That is to say, I prefer to wait until the contract has ended, look at all the facts, and then berate a team’s front office for the crappy decision.
But for the sake of entertainment, I’ll spend the next few pages defending the signing of the NL’s best offensive player.
Yes, I know that was segued marvelously. And thanks for noticing.
Matt Kemp led the National League in the following categories:
Home runs (39)
Wins above replacement (8.7, all WAR stats from Fangraphs)
He was second in the National League in these categories:
Slugging percentage (.586)
Stolen bases (40, tied)
So, when I say he was the league’s best offensive player, please believe me. A writer for a competitor site went on record predicting that a potential buyer might hesitate to pounce with such a large contract on the books, to which I give you the following piece of fictional dialogue:
Potential owner: This whole acquiring a baseball team in the second-biggest market in the country thing looks like a great deal for me! Huzzah!
Colleague: And they just signed the best player in the league to a deal that makes sure he’s here for the next eight seasons! And the deal is totally on par with the way Major League Baseball teams value players! Huzzah!
Potential owner: Huz—oh, wow. Really? They have one of the best players in the league locked up for market value? Hm. You know what? I think I’m good. I was really looking forward to marketing Ted Lilly as the big-money draw.
I don’t think I need to convince you of the idiocy behind this logic. Just know I’m of the belief that having Matt Kemp on the team is one of the many perks (though few are related to personnel) of owning the franchise.
After years of letting talent get away (Pedro, Piazza, Beltre, Werth) and shelling out millions to free agents (Brown, Drew, Furcal, Pierre, Jones, Schmidt), they finally lock up a homegrown player.
Even Andre Ethier took some shots at management last season. Their track record spoke for itself.
In the past, a disappointing season (like 2010) from a talented player like Kemp would have landed him in another city. This time, they had a little patience, gave the talented player a little TLC, and out popped an MVP candidate.
You don’t need me to tell you playing in Los Angeles is a draw for a professional athlete, but a professional athlete might need a reminder on what it means to play in Los Angeles.
Isn't one of the perks of having a team in a huge media market being able to have the money of a team in a huge media market? The Yankees and Red Sox certainly got that memo. Why can't the Dodgers have two players with $20 million-per-year contracts?
There have been mixed reports on whether the Dodgers can and will go after big free agents. Most recently, both Frank McCourt and the MLB have said that there are no official restrictions. Regardless, it can't hurt to have Prince Fielder's good friend locked up for the next eight seasons, right?
The table below shows the most lucrative contracts signed by position players over the past couple seasons.
Given the two columns farthest to the right, one would have to put Kemp's deal pretty high on this list in terms of value.
Before the start of the 2012 season, we'll be able to add Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to this list—two more players who can only play first base and one of whom is on the wrong side of 30. One should also take into account that Kemp (as well as Mauer and Tulo) plays at one of the more difficult positions to balance defensive skill with offensive output. He's also managed to play in all but 10 regular-season games since the start of 2008, something that cannot be said for the two biggest earners on this list.
Because their 2012 projected lineup looks something like this:
C: A.J. Ellis/Tim Federowicz
1B: James Loney (assuming they offer him arbitration)
2B: Mark Ellis
3B: Juan Uribe
SS: Dee Gordon
LF: Juan Rivera/Jerry Sands
RF Andre Ethier (assuming they offer him arbitration/don’t trade him)
Would you watch that team if it had, say, Tony Gwynn, Jr. playing centerfield?
It's easy to be skeptical on the prospects of Kemp repeating his mammoth 2011 campaign, but what if he does? Better yet, what if that was just the beginning?
The way I see it, there's still room for improvement, especially on defense.
Admittedly, the man's won two consecutive Gold Gloves in center field. It should also be noted, however, that a Gold Glove is often awarded based on copious amounts of nothing. While Kemp's arm strength is in the top tier, even his biggest supporters would like to see him get better breaks on fly balls.
Offensively, Kemp made huge strides in 2011. The biggest knock on him in the batter's box continues to be his strikeout rate, which stayed pretty consistent with his career marks. Slight improvements in making contact and plate discipline could make him downright scary.
The last improvement I'd like to see from Kemp is with his pull power. Thirty of his 39 home runs last season went to center or right. While his power to the opposite field is part of what makes him great, it's extremely interesting how little lift he got when he pulled the ball last season. His ground ball rate on balls hit to left field was 4.35, as opposed to his hits to center field (.69) and right field (.10). This could be the difference between him hitting 39 and 50 home runs.
Do we really want to see what this guy can do at Yankee Stadium or Fenway? Or Wrigley? Or anywhere else? No, not you, fantasy nerds. Your feelings are moot on this issue.
Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, is under the impression that he could have procured a $200-plus million contract on the open market next season. I'm inclined to believe him.
All in all, I'm happy I'll get to watch him play for a while. Maybe all Kemp needs to get to 40/40 in 2012 is some lineup protection from Mark Ellis.
Follow @SpiceFreeman on Twitter if you like Matt Kemp better than Devon White.