Matt Kemp is not the player he was in 2011 when he finished second in NL MVP voting. But that does not mean he can’t be close to that player again someday. He is only 29 and under contract until 2020. He is a huge gamble because of the contract attached to him — but is the risk worth the reward? As the 2014 MLB trade deadline approaches, that is a question Seattle Mariners‘ executives should be asking themselves.
After shoulder and ankle surgeries in 2012 and 2013 respectively, a change of scenery could help Kemp become relevant again. The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ outfield is crowded with Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Joc Pederson waiting in the wings in Triple-A. Playing in the NL doesn’t necessarily help Kemp’s surgically-repaired body either, as he is subjected to the rigors of defense in CF/LF whenever the Dodgers aim to get his bat in the lineup.
Kemp has over $100 million remaining on his current deal, and it makes sense that the Dodgers want to dump that salary to free up some cap space. That should be an appealing factor to potential suitors. Whether any external organization has faith in him living up to that kind of dough remains to be seen. But it’s something the Mariners should at least ponder. Twenty-nine years old is usually when a baseball player is in their prime, and acquiring Kemp would do two things for the Mariners — give them a right-handed bat and one capable of becoming a full-time designated hitter — two things Seattle is starved for.
Becoming a full-time DH would dissipate some of the wear and tear on Kemp’s body. What he would bring to the Mariners in a full-time role would still be miles above the production current of DH Corey Hart. I wrote earlier in the week about how acquiring Billy Butler or Marlon Byrd would be the wrong move for the Mariners. Byrd is in the twilight of his spotty career, and Butler is an overweight baseball player. He is not an athlete. Both those players offer a short-term fix for the M’s, and neither are a guarantee. Kemp is an athlete, and there is still some real long-term potential, both his age and his staying power in Seattle, given his contract.
In acquiring Kemp, the Mariners would have a reliable DH, could bump Logan Morrison to first base and Michael Saunders would take over right field. That would relegate Hart and current 1B Justin Smoak (who combined are hitting .208 with 12 HRs) to reserve roles, if they aren’t dangled as depth in a trade. In all reality, SP Taijuan Walker, INF Nick Franklin and SP Edwin Diaz would probably have to be involved in negotiations. The M’s rotation should be fine once James Paxton returns.
In a dream scenario, the M’s would be able to package the right combination of players to acquire Kemp, and the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect, SS Corey Seager. The two Seager brothers would then be reunited and unquestionably would be the future of the Mariners’ infield along with 2B Robinson Cano. Let’s not get carried away with things, though.
Back to Kemp. He is hitting .293 with an OPS of .802 since June 1, so there are positive signs that support him turning both this season and his career around. An every day role at designated hitter, where he only has to focus on one facet of his game while not having to play defense every day, may be just what Kemp needs to get his game back to its past All-Star form.