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Would You Trade for Matt Kemp and His Massive Salary?

Image (1) Matt-Kemp-digs-the-long-ball.jpg for post 177024

The non-waiver trading deadline in baseball is three days away. Last year it was a dud, with Bud Norris moving from the Astros to the Orioles as the most memorable move. Exciting, right? Chances are this year’s deadline will also be a bit of a snoozer considering so few teams still think they’re out of the Wild Card chase.

Odds on a Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster — the Yankees and Mets might get into a bidding war (LOL!) — seem slim given the way the Rockies operate. If Tulowitzki is traded, the offseason is more likely seeing how the Rockies can’t afford to screw this up.

That leaves Matt Kemp and pending free agent Jon Lester as the two biggest names being dangled in the online rumor mill for the last 48 hours, since the Rays are back in the race and unlikely to deal David Price. Lester, as of Tuesday afternoon, looks all but assured to be traded before the deadline. John Lackey and Andrew Miller might also follow suit, given how Boston traded Jake Peavy over the weekend.

Over the weekend there is growing speculation the Sox could deal their lefty ace to the Dodgers for Kemp which might make the SportsCenter graphic department writers dust off the words “Blockbuster” for the first time in a while. Oh right, the light-hitting Mariners are also making heavy overtures about acquiring Kemp but that would be a lot less blockbuster-y.

Although the cash-rich Dodgers are content to burn money like Krusty the Clown lighting a cigarette, ideally they’d like to move Kemp given the logjam in the outfield. Yasiel Puig obviously isn’t going anywhere. Carl Crawford and Andre Either — each under contract until 2017 and owed roughly a combined $115 million — won’t be easy to move, although (of course) there are rumors about Crawford starting to percolate. The team wants to open up a spot for prospect Joc Pederson, meaning Kemp is the most likely to go since his name value still carries some cachet.

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Kemp comes with a massive disclaimer, about $118 million left in salary through 2019 — the proverbial red dot on the cashmere sweater as it were. If you don’t feel like doing the math, Kemp is on the books for at least $21 million for the next five seasons. The salary made sense coming off the 2011 season when he hit 39 homers with 40 steals, producing a 8.2 WAR. Now, with Kemp posting a .272/.343/.775 (as of Monday) it looks like one of the worst-value contracts in sports, so much so that the outfielder might be considered a “throw in” to potential dealings, with the Dodgers absorbing a portion of the salary.

Injuries ruined Kemp’s 2012 and 2013, but this year he’s played in 95 out of 108 with his ankle and numerous other ailments reportedly healed. His 2014 season thus far has produced a -1.0 WAR. More encouraging is his 122 wRC+ (100 is league average) in 2014. His contract doesn’t make him total deadweight and nor is it as bad as some of the other megadeals we’ve seen this decade such as Albert Pujols ($240 million/nine years); Prince Fielder ($214 million/eight); Justin Verlander ($180 million/six), but it’s still a massive outlay for one team to absorb for basically an average outfielder three years removed from his second place National League MVP finish. (Yes, this is the part where I’ll note he lost the award that year to Ryan Braun.)

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A move to the Red Sox or an other American League team would allow Kemp to DH part-time and play some centerfield — his preferred position. You could see a scenario where the Red Sox maybe talk themselves into adding a Kemp — if only on potential/recapturing form — as a guy who can play in the outfield and possibly replace David Ortiz in the lineup. For what it’s worth Ortiz’s wRC+ is 125 in 2014.

The slight irony here is two years ago the Dodgers helped out the Red Sox, taking on the huge salaries of Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez in the late days of the ill-fated Bobby Valentine regime. Given he’s a free agent and Boston is now 7.5 out of the Wild Card it does make sense to trade Lester and get some blue chip players back for him. The Red Sox are already locked into $78 million for the 2015 season between six players (Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Clay Buchholz and Edward Mujica) and Kemp would push that closer to $100 million, depending how much salary the Dodgers absorb. Adding Kemp obviously cuts back on Boston’s future flexibility.

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The Red Sox (or Mariners) are likely considering Kemp — salary be damned — because the 2015 free agent crop of outfielders is, to put it kindly, a scrap heap with perhaps Colby Rasmus, Dernard Span and Melky Cabrera among the most intriguing names.

If this was fantasy baseball, yeah sure, take a flier on Kemp and hope he finds a way to get back to his pre-2012 form. In real life baseball, the money involved is too much for this kind of gamble. It’s somewhat crazy to think for the Dodgers to land Lester they’d have to give up Kemp and a couple prospects to sweeten the pot. And more realistically, with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke followed by Hyun-jin Ryu and a reborn Josh Beckett (141 ERA+) does Los Angeles even need another starting pitcher for a postseason run, even if it opens up an avenue to potentially unload Kemp?

Closing luke warm take: let Kemp be someone else’s problem and save the money on 2-3 more serviceable veterans.

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