When should a playoff contender consider shutting down arguably their best position player, and the franchise center fielder?
When they’ve arguably been the hottest team in all of baseball over the last two months without him, I suppose. That’s the enviable situation that the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers are finding themselves in the days: good enough already to make a deep run in the playoffs with of without Matt Kemp, who is still being bothered by an ailing ankle without a real timetable (though an optimist might say sometime in September) to return.
At this point, though, the team may want to think about whether they should want him to return in 2013 at all.
Of course, that wouldn’t be the case if one could guarantee Kemp’s return to form upon returning to the lineup, but as he’s been outright poor for the majority of his 251 at-bats thus far this season … that’s far from a sure thing. The same goes with his health, which has been a mess this season, with various ailments landing him on the DL three times already.
Even if he is somehow able to string together a run of good health that keeps him in the Los Angeles lineup through the regular season and the playoffs, you’d have to wonder whether the term “more harm than good” applies.
Those harms could be more significant than most would think. On the sidelines, Kemp is an off-the-field leader, a significant morale booster, and a beacon on which the rest of the team can rally around as they continue to defy the odds of not only their poor early-season start, but also the continued on-field absence of their home-grown face of the franchise.
If Kemp struggles on the field and at the plate as he has done for the majority of the season, however, it would not only take a more productive player out of the lineup, but could also attract enough negative attention over whether or not he should be in the lineup that it could affect the rest of the team’s morale and momentum going down the stretch.
The Dodgers, though, have a chance to avoid any such potential issues by making the call and shutting him down now.
It’s not exactly an easy decision, and on name and past performance alone, it’s hard to justify keeping Kemp out of lineup for the playoff run. However, baseball is a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of game, and the fact is that what the center fielder has done this season presents more of a potential detriment to the potential gain.
And for a team trying to win it all, why take the risk?