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Before the MLB Winter Meetings even began, some of the marquee free agents of this offseason began finding homes. From Robinson Cano to Jacoby Ellsbury to Carlos Beltran, the dominoes have begun to fall. A few significant trades have already been made, as well. The landscape for the 2014 season has started to take shape.
Now that the Winter Meetings have begun, the trade market will heat up even more and the hot fire of MLB trade rumors will begin burning at a great rate. It could be a busy week in Orlando on that front with some big names being discussed. Among them is Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.
With Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles has an abundance of outfield depth and the team is open to moving one of them. That could be Kemp, in part because of his big money contract, his injury history and the question marks surrounding his potential production going forward.
Kemp, 29, is still in the prime years of his career, but for him, it’s just a matter of staying healthy. From 2008-2011, he missed only 11 total games and had three excellent seasons. He hit .290/.351/.496 during those four years and had 121 doubles, 22 triples, 111 home runs, 392 RBI, and 128 stolen bases. He was in the top 10 in NL MVP voting twice, including a second-place finish in 2011.
In the last two years, though, he has been plagued by injuries. He combined to play in just 179 games, including in only 73 in 2013. While he was still an all-star two seasons ago, and hit .303 with 23 homers, his numbers slid a bit this past season. He only managed a .270 batting average and a mere six home runs in 263 at bats.
A lot of those problems can be attributed to the fact that he hasn’t played consistently due to injuries and the effects those have had on his performance. Over the last two seasons, he has dealt with multiple issues with both his hamstring and shoulder, as well as an ankle injury that required surgery.
These raise two potential concerns. First, is he now at the point in his career where he is fragile and will constantly be injured? At 29-years-old, one might not think so, but his recent track record may indicate otherwise. Second, if he is able to stay on the field, will he have any lingering effects from his previous ailments? MLB Network’s Peter Gammons recently said that interested teams aren’t so much worried about his shoulder or hamstrings, but that the ankle could scare them off.
The Dodgers don’t have a ton of leverage in any potential negotiations, but they will still surely have discussions with other organizations. And among those teams that may be interested is the Boston Red Sox. The World Series champions can spend some money, have plenty of prospects to include in a potential deal, and, with Ellsbury’s departure, have some room in the outfield.
The Red Sox aren’t looking to spend big for aging stars, having learned the hard way with Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and, to an extent, John Lackey, so Kemp’s remaining contract of six-years and $128 million is not something Boston would be looking to take on. But L.A. knows it will need to eat a good chunk of that money to move him, and that could be quite enticing to general manager Ben Cherington. The level of player(s) the Dodgers would receive in return would then depend largely on how much money they would pick up.
Kemp would fit in nicely in Boston. Without Ellsbury, the Red Sox are looking at prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. taking over in center. While they could certainly do worse there, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to allow him another year or two to develop. Kemp would provide him the opportunity to do just that. And, even if Kemp is no longer a true center fielder, Boston does have the flexibility to shift him to a corner spot and have Shane Victorino move back to his natural position.
If he is able to bounce back after a down year at the plate, he will help replace the offense the Sox are losing from Ellsbury. Of course, it is entirely possible his injuries prove to be too much and he never fully gets his swing back. But if he does, a middle-of-the-lineup involving some order of Kemp, Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia would quite solid for the next year or two.
Trading for him would be a calculated risk, but now is the time to make the move if Cherington wants to do it. When healthy, he is a MVP-caliber player, and his value may never be lower. The Red Sox aren’t going to be major players on the free agent market this year, so pulling off a trade like this could make sense for them if they feel his injuries won’t be a problem going forward.
Whether or not anything gets done, expect Kemp’s name to mentioned quite a bit over the course of this week and maybe beyond. It’s just one of the facets that makes the MLB offseason always entertaining.
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