When the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres, the trade violated one of baseball’s unofficial rules. Just like “if you hit my guy I’ll hit your guy” and “no stealing or tagging up with a 10-run lead,” trading within the division just doesn’t happen all that often, especially when it includes a former All-Star like Kemp.
Clearly the Dodgers had to move somebody in the outfield. In 2014, four guys played at least 90 games in the green grass of Chavez Ravine — Kemp, needs-to-play-every-day Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. The emerging Scott Van Slyke also played 60 of his 98 games somewhere in the outfield, and in early December the Dodgers even got a sixth outfielder in former Cincinnati Red Chris Heisey.
To move an All-Star like Kemp within the division means the Dodgers think that this recent injury history will cause career problems very quickly. The discovery of arthritis in both of his hips during the pre-trade physical threatened to nix the whole thing.
In addition to Kemp’s three ankle and two shoulder surgeries in the past two years, that discovery probably made Dodgers brass very glad that Kemp was the one they chose to get rid of. That L.A. will still pay $18 million of his $21 million 2015 salary seems to indicate as much.
However, in the second half of 2014 — after recovering from those surgeries — Kemp looked good. As somebody who seems to wind up with Kemp on his fantasy baseball team, I noticed this with relish.
After the All-Star break, in 20 fewer games and about 80 fewer plate appearances, Kemp’s batting average was 40 points higher and his on-base percentage was 35 points higher. He more than doubled his home runs from eight to 17, his slugging percentage went up 176 points and his OPS was .971 as opposed to a pre-All-Star-Break .760. (My fantasy season as a whole was still terrible.)
The Dodgers obviously think that the second half was a fluke and not an indicator of future performance (to use every stock trader’s favorite phrase), while the Padres are hoping otherwise.
Big intra-division trades mean that the team doing the trading really believes the player won’t amount to much anymore, especially not in the nearly two-dozen times the clubs face each other every year. The receiving team believes that the involved player will be more motivated to succeed precisely because of that.
Kemp certainly has the motivation, but the question is whether he can hold up long enough to make a significant impact. The Dodgers clearly don’t think that’s an issue, and that’s why they made the trade within the division.
Because sometimes guys do steal when up 10 runs.