Like the Andre Ethier rumor we touched on earlier, Ken Rosenthal also reported that the Los Angeles Dodgers would explore the possibility of trading former MVP-runner-up Matt Kemp. A more talented option, Kemp is also more expensive and has shown greater volatility throughout his career. Some of those numbers are awful juicy, though. Would the Tigers be interested?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Kemp is a 30 year old outfielder who was drafted out of high school by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. He skyrocketed through the Dodgers' farm system, debuting at the MLB level in 2006 at the ripe age of 21. He barely cracked Baseball America's top 100 prospects list in '06, but quickly made a name for himself at the big league level. After a decent .737 OPS in 166 plate appearances as a rookie, Kemp hit .342/.373/.521 in 311 plate appearances in 2007.
From then on, it was nothing but a swift ascent to stardom. Kemp finished 10th in the NL MVP voting in 2009, winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in the same season. His numbers took a slight tumble in 2010, but he played in 162 games and hit a career high 28 home runs. He bested that home run total in 2011, hitting 39 with 126 RBI. Kemp was a dinger short of joining the exclusive 40-40 club, as he also stole 40 bases in 51 attempts. He finished second in the MVP voting to Ryan Braun despite leading the NL with 8.4 WAR. Since then, injuries have sapped Kemp's power and speed, limiting him to 179 games in 2012 and 2013. He bounced back in 2014, playing in 150 games and hitting .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs.
Why should we care?
Kemp's 2011 numbers stand as a testament to the type of player he is when healthy. He hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 126 RBI in what should have been an MVP season, but for his team's third place finish. Of course, one need only look at the American League's WAR leader that season to see what one season can do to a player's contract value.
Unlike Jacoby Ellsbury, however, Kemp has shown his rare combination of power and speed throughout his career. He has four season with 25 home runs or more, and a fifth with 23 bombs. He has stolen 34 bases or more on three separate occasions. He is a career .292 hitter.
More importantly, he was able to regain that form in 2014. Kemp got off to a slow start, hitting .269/.330/.430 in the first half. He was a monster in the second half, though, hitting .309/.365/.606 with 17 home runs in 263 plate appearances. Kemp only attempted 13 steals, succeeding eight times.
Why should we stay away?
If you thought Ethier's contract was bad, don't read any further. Kemp is owed $107 million over the next five years, taking him through his age 34 season. This isn't an awful deal if Kemp can maintain the pace he set in the second half last season, but he only two seasons with 4 WAR or more in his entire career. Kemp has put together a couple more seasons with 3+ WAR, but has not been consistent enough to earn the giant contract he currently has.
A big reason for Kemp's low WAR totals is his defense. Portrayed by old school baseball types as the prototypical five-tool center fielder, Kemp truly belongs in a corner. He has been worth -72 defensive runs saved and has a UZR of -69.2 in just under 7,000 career innings in center field. That's really bad. Rajai Davis -- who rates as a league average defender through 3500 innings in center -- could probably sit out in center with a beach chair for the next 3500 innings and still have better numbers.
Then there are the injuries. Kemp underwent ankle and shoulder surgery last offseason, which partially explains his slow start in 2014. He has had multiple shoulder surgeries in his career (all on his non-throwing side), and has a history of hamstring issues. Now on the wrong side of 30, Kemp's health is a big concern for whichever team decides to take a chance on him.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I don't see this one happening. Even the Dodgers realized that Kemp was not a center fielder last season, and a lot of his value comes from being the presumed west coast's version of Andrew McCutchen. Instead, Kemp is a good power hitter who plays a non-premium position. Is this valuable? Yes, but only if he stays healthy and productive. Even then, I don't know if that is enough for the Tigers to tack another $20 million contract onto their payroll.