Only five days remain until the trade deadline, and with the Rays going for the 10th straight win today, the Mariners seem more likely to battle them for a wild card spot than to purchase their best players before the trade deadline. This has apparently led to the Mariners shopping around for backup plans, which now inexplicably includes Matt Kemp.
Right now, Matt Kemp is a backup plan for the Mariners. But their interest is very real. Idea would be to transition him to DH eventually.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 27, 2014
There's just so many things about this that are horrifying, the least of which is the plan to move to Kemp to DH. Making a move for Kemp before the season might have seemed like a more reasonable proposition, when less was known. One year removed from being good feels a lot better than two, but now we know too much about him for him to make any kind of sense.
Kemp is owned a whopping $107 million after this season, not including current $21 million salary. He's smack dab in the middle of his second straight sub-replacement level season, sitting at -0.3 WAR with a 119 wRC+. Kemp's a far cry from the superstar hitter he was three years ago, and nowhere near the very good one he was in 2012. Injuries have wreaked havoc on Kemp's career, especially his defense. Kemp wouldn't be below replacement level this year if it weren't for his jaw-droppingly bad metrics, as DRS has him already costing the Dodgers -21 runs through his 94 games. UZR isn't much kinder, at -17.9. It's a small sample, but this isn't anything new. Kemp's defensive metrics have really been bad for many years now, though at least some of those were due to him being stuck in center field -- but that's before the ankle surgery and the extensive hamstring injuries. In that regard, it's not much of a surprise that the Mariners might think he could eventually hit better at DH, since he's become a liability in the outfield, and his ankles might be shot. This, after Kemp stated his desire to play center on an every day basis.
There's so much uncertainty about a trade for Kemp that evaluating it properly is nearly impossible, given how much we don't know about the cost. There is a way that a trade for Kemp would make some sense, but given his reputation, all of those things coming together seems like a near impossibility. The Mariners would have to give up very little, and the Dodgers would have to eat an unreasonable request of his remaining salary.
Matt Kemp would make the Mariners better right now, but not by much. His defense has been terrible, but he hasn't played much right field and would presumably be some sort of upgrade over Endy Chavez. He can still hit some but isn't exactly heating up (.730 OPS over the past month). At this stage in his career, Matt Kemp is a shockingly unremarkable player. Thinking he is going to regain his 2012 form at the plate, let alone 2011, is essentially a fool's errand. His body will likely never be the same, and he's about to turn 30 years old. Any estimation of future production should be more about him getting back to respectability, not ever becoming a superstar again. Matt Kemp's future, through brightly rose-colored glasses, looks like a 2-3 win player. At best.
Besides, how much money can the Mariners expect the Dodgers to eat? Even if they swallow $50 million of Kemp's contract, he'd still make over $11 million a year for the next five years, all past his prime. This, for a player with extensive injury history, a mediocre bat, and alarming defense, all before he's 30. Employing Kemp at any cost for the next five years is a tremendous, irresponsible risk.
That's just without giving up the talent, too. The Mariners aren't going to be able to snag Kemp by taking on some salary, he's going to cost something too. His name is too big. I have no idea what that cost may be, because we're dealing with a unique situation. Players like Kemp don't get traded very often, and with so much salary at stake, the amount of prospects going back to LA in a deal depends on the money. Simply put, everyone should be terrified of what the Mariners might be required to give up to acquire Kemp, and what kind of restrictions he will put on their payroll going forward.
The best case scenario for Matt Kemp going forward is that the metrics are fluky in their small sample outside of CF, and that he could settle in as an average-ish defender in right field for the next five years. The Dodgers eat $50 million, leaving the Mariners with $67 million to pay Kemp through 2019. His offense would rebound somewhat, but injuries prevent him from ever being the stud hitter he once was. Maybe, optimistically, he becomes a 2-3 win player for the next two or three years, eventually fading to a one win player by the end of his deal. That's extremely optimistic.
The worst case scenario is that Kemp's body is broken, and he really can't defend anymore. Injuries will continue to hamper his career, and he'll miss considerable time over the next five years. He remains a replacement level player, at best. At worst, he falls into a player that shouldn't even be employed. The Mariners move him to DH, where he performs worse than extremely cheap or otherwise freely available talent. He doesn't hit enough to be worth anything at all, and decline starts to hit. The Mariners lose Nick Franklin and Edwin Diaz, if not more, to pay Kemp $14 million a year for the next five years. The trade goes down as one of the worst in Mariner history.
I'm not trying to overstate or sensationalize the impact a deal like this could make on the Mariners long-term. Acquiring Kemp at any rational cost has the potential to be a disaster, and the most optimistic outlooks requires a certain degree of irrationality. Like any deal, there's a price for Kemp that might make some sense, but there's simply no way it would happen. Kemp's name alone, plus the M's known desperation for a right-handed bat, will drive the price too high. Trading for Marlon Byrd, including guaranteeing his 2016 vesting option through age 39, would be a better idea. So would going back to the Twins for Josh Willingham.
Matt Kemp only seems attractive because he's a big name who used to be pretty great. An unbiased, rational look at him reveals a staggering amount of red flags. If the rumor is true, and this really is a backup plan, we had all be shopping for rose-colored glasses and a tube of crazy glue, because the second those glasses come off, panic attacks will commence. Kemp is simply too low-impact at this stage in his career to take such a massive risk.