On the Cost of Moving Matt Kemp

Just a few years ago, in 2011, the two Most Valuable Player awards were given to Justin Verlander and Ryan Braun. They were fine choices, both, but just according to WAR, the two best players in baseball that year were Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Kemp. Ellsbury, at 27, was a nine-win everyday center fielder. Kemp, at 26, was an eight-win everyday center fielder. Both of them had the look of long-term franchise players, but both stumbled in 2012 and still haven’t returned to that previous level. Now, during the 2013-2014 MLB offseason, both Ellsbury and Kemp appear to be available. And they are, naturally, two of the biggest available names.

Ellsbury, of course, is available as a free agent, and Scott Boras has drawn parallels to the Carl Crawford contract. Ellsbury could be looking at something like six years and $130-140 million. Kemp is available as a trade target, as the Dodgers are said to be shopping Kemp, Crawford, and Andre Ethier in order to better accommodate Yasiel Puig and clear some payroll space. Kemp’s under contract for another six years at $128 million. The Kemp and Ellsbury money could be very similar. Somebody is going to pay that amount to Ellsbury on purpose. Kemp, though, probably can’t be moved without the Dodgers eating some cash. As similar as the two players might look, it’s probable that, at this point, Matt Kemp’s trade value is negative.

It does have to be noted that Kemp is almost exactly one year younger than Ellsbury, and that’s a point in his favor, even if it doesn’t make much of a difference in the short-term. But there’s real age, and there’s effective age. We’ll get into this in a little bit, but for now we can start with the fundamental question: if Matt Kemp were placed on waivers, would he be claimed?

Obviously, I can’t know the answer to that for sure, but it’s worth pointing out that a summer ago, Joe Mauer reportedly went through unclaimed. He was a star catcher under contract another six years for a similar total as Kemp. Maybe Mauer would’ve been claimed under other circumstances, but this is the fundamental question because it addresses the very idea of that trade value. If nobody wants a player at his salary, then his value is in the red. My guess is that Kemp would pass through, because teams care a lot about what players have done recently, and the current version of Matt Kemp is basically wearing a three-piece suit made out of red flags.

Kemp and Ellsbury were similar in 2011. Kemp was better in 2012, in large part because Ellsbury was hurt. Ellsbury, however, was much better in 2013, in large part because Kemp was hurt. Playing most of the season, Ellsbury returned to the level of being a star. Kemp, when he got on the field, was more or less replacement-level, as he was down the stretch the season before. Basically, Ellsbury rebounded before hitting the market. Kemp has done the opposite, and there are a bunch of legitimate questions about his health.

Which is funny in a way, since Kemp was once the picture of durability. They always are until they aren’t. Not that Ellsbury has been the healthiest player in the world, but as has been pointed out before, Ellsbury’s injuries have mostly been freak accidents. Kemp’s body has behaved in such a way that he’s not an ordinary 29-year-old. His “effective age”, if you will, seems a bit older, and the nature of his problems makes one legitimately concerned about what might be to come.

In the last two years, Kemp has had pretty major hamstring issues. He’s had ankle issues, and he’s had both major and minor shoulder surgery. His isolated power dropped to .125, cutting the previous season almost in half, and where Kemp’s never been considered a defensive whiz, he might not even be a realistic center fielder anymore given what’s gone on with his lower body. The healthy version wasn’t real good. Now he’s older and he’s got more scars.

Ellsbury has been able to rebuild his value. He’s a certain center fielder for the next handful of years. There aren’t any real questions about lingering injuries. People don’t know how Kemp’s going to move. They don’t know how Kemp’s going to swing. Matt Kemp requires a lot of guesswork, and other teams are naturally going to be more down on him than Kemp’s own current employer. The Dodgers love Kemp’s ceiling. Other teams are aware of it, but they’ll also be more conscious of the risks.

It’s not at all impossible for Kemp to get back to being a good regular player. As a matter of fact, I’d say it’s very possible. He is still young, and he is still extremely talented. Probably, he won’t return to being a star, and given the amount of money he’s guaranteed, to take that all on would be to roll the dice on Kemp being really good again right away. That’s not the 50% projection. That’s more like the 70 or 80% projection. Trading for Kemp and his salary indicates a belief he’ll be terrific. All that is is a possibility, and he could just as easily be a corner outfielder with reduced power from this point forward. Kemp has basically the same career wRC+ as Ethier does.

Teams tend to be relatively risk-averse, in that when they make a big splash, they prefer to do so on established, durable players. Teams are always willing to give a chance to more fragile talent, but usually not with a mega-deal. In those cases, they’re looking for bargains, or shorter-term acquisitions. Kemp isn’t a bargain, and he isn’t a shorter-term acquisition. He’s a one-time superstar under contract for 60% of the next decade.

What the Dodgers can argue is that Josh Hamilton just got five years and $125 million on the free-agent market, and Hamilton was one of the least reliable big-time free agents in history. Hamilton had a reputation for fragility, he obviously came with a checkered past, and nobody was certain what to expect. But Hamilton was also coming off a four-win season, which followed a four-win season, which followed an eight-win season, and on top of that, the Hamilton contract isn’t a selling point anymore after season one. Hamilton in 2012 was way better than Kemp was in 2013, and Kemp comes with additional questions about his health. With Hamilton, it’s about managing aches and pains. With Kemp, the power might not ever come back. The foot speed might not ever come back.

It’s yet to be seen what Matt Kemp still has in the tank, and for that reason, it’s highly unlikely anyone would be willing to take him and his contract. Without knowing the new market rate for wins, we can’t play around with that many numbers, but in order for a team to just take Matt Kemp, it seems like the Dodgers would need to chip in some tens of millions of dollars. And that’s without the Dodgers getting talent back. That’s straight-up salary relief, and the Dodgers probably aren’t looking to just dump Matt Kemp for nothing with a name. That seems to go against their current business model.

Kemp has it in him to be a flashy, recognizable star, and to move him now could be selling low given the assortment of perfectly valid questions. Crawford and Ethier are under contract for two fewer seasons, and they’re less likely to have massive performance rebounds. Those are the sorts of players where it seems like the Dodgers would be willing to chip in money to save other money. The Dodgers probably wouldn’t end up missing Crawford or Ethier. Kemp would have some chance of making them look silly, and the Dodgers wouldn’t want to end up in a position where they gave away a star at low value just for financial relief. The preferred course, presumably, is to allow Kemp to try to rebuild value. Realistically he couldn’t be worse in 2014 than he was in 2013.

The more risk-averse path is to not acquire Matt Kemp. For the Dodgers, the more risk-averse path is to not sell Matt Kemp. There’s probably not going to be a trade involving Matt Kemp. Not this offseason, not unless I have a completely incorrect read. It only takes one GM, but all those GMs have support staffs, and all those support staffs can see the same things.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Steven
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Steven
2 years 10 months ago

Just because a team doesn’t put a claim on Mauer on waivers doesn’t mean he is worth negative value. It could be that teams understand the prospects it would cost and see no feasible way to pull off a trade.

AverageMeansAverageOverTime
Guest
AverageMeansAverageOverTime
2 years 10 months ago

I agree. Claiming a star on waivers is going to cost a bunch in propects and most teams won’t bother do it. He had value and if he was a free agent we’d probably find that out real quick.

BJsworld
Guest
BJsworld
2 years 10 months ago

That is not correct.

There have been plenty of stars that were given away for nothing more than salary relief. We have no idea what Mauer would have commanded in returned talent. What we do know is that the team who places a winning claim is under no obligation outside of assuming the contract.

If Mauer had positive value someone would have claimed him. Even if things don’t work out at least you tried.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 10 months ago

That is not correct either.

We don’t know if someone would definitely have claimed him if he was given positive value. He may have been, but unless we know the results of other similar circumstances (since many high-profile players are also put on waivers). If someone can do the research, we can see whether how likely he would have been claimed if he had positive value.

JimNYC
Guest
JimNYC
2 years 10 months ago

Steven, you must have a short memory. Does Alex Rios ring no bells?

Joebrady
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I fail to see how claiming someone off of waivers will cost prospects. A trade might, but a waiver claim would not.

Joe
Guest
Joe
2 years 10 months ago

you are never required to give up prospects if you make a waiver claim. its an option if you WANT to, yes, but its not a risk you have to worry about. The ONLY risk, is the team just letting him go for nothing and you’re saddled with his salary. thus thats basically the only disincentive for a team to attempt to claim someone on waivers.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 10 months ago

True, but that doesn’t mean teams would definitely do it because there is little risk. There is the time factor in having to contact a team and negotitate for a .001% chance of landing Mauer (if they know the Twins were not going to give him away). That just not be worth their time.

JimNYC
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

It takes literally seconds to make a waiver claim. The only risk is in having to take on the player’s salary. Remember Manny Ramirez in 2003? The Red Sox put him on irrevocable waivers to clear money for ARod, and nobody bit? Or Alex Rios in 2009, when people were shocked that the White Sox put a claim on him and the Blue Jays just laughed and let him go?

RSquared
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Theo put Manny on irrevocable waivers in ’02 to demonstrate that he couldn’t grant his wish to be traded, since no one would even claim the last six years of his deal. Manny was to be traded to TEX as part of the A-rod trade in 03.
But I agree with you. If you have the money and see the value, put in a claim. All they can say is no.

section223
Guest
section223
2 years 10 months ago

These points about the claiming team’s responsibility are all valid, but there can be problems in assuming those are the only factors at play and declaring Mauer to have negative value as a result. It’s generally more complex than internet posters would make it out to be.

Joebrady
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

It’s not that complex at that level. If someone claims a player, that means, at a minimum, he is worth his salary. And, if no one claims him, he is not worth his salary.

Tak
Member
Tak
2 years 10 months ago

Putting a claim on a guy doesn’t mean you have to give up prospects. The only risk is that the other team will unload that contract so you have to take up all of the remaining value.

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 10 months ago

You’re also preventing some other team from doing something stupid. If a player is waived and you know his team isn’t going to give his up easily, there’s no reason to claim him if you don’t want to make the trade.

No one thought Mauer was waived as a salary dump, and it’s ridiculous to expect them to behave is if they did.

legendaryan
Member
legendaryan
2 years 10 months ago

No reason to claim someone if you don’t what to make the trade?

Making a claim has nothing to do with trading. The waiving team can pull the player back, let him go (with the attached contract) or begin negotiating for a trade.

The claiming team has no obligation to trade anything.

That being said, as long as the player is worth the contract (in the claiming team’s eyes) there absolutely is reason to claim with no intention of trading because a) you might just acquire the player or b) the team pulls the player off and you keep the player from being acquired by another (likely better) team.

Carwin
Guest
Carwin
2 years 10 months ago

On the Ellsbury injury issue: at what point does a freak injury every year or two (some that cost him long portions of a season) become a pattern that suggests something more than random bad luck?

james wilson
Guest
james wilson
2 years 10 months ago

Ellsbury is not a victim of freak injuries, he’s the injury freak. The next ten players, experiencing the exact same circumstances, wouldn’t miss a game. Not his fault, I’m sure, more like the difference between a thoroughbred and a quarter-horse. But this is going to continue. And he didn’t have the swollen hand for three months because he ran into a wall or fell under a second baseman.

Maybe Cherington can fake the Dodgers out of Kemp, being good at running circles around them already. Put him in left, or do a Billy Bean and make a first baseman out of him. And they’re kinda running on empty with historically black players fer sure.

Joebrady
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

1-Those were freak injuries, unless you have a chart of how many LFers missed the season by running into Beltre and breaking their ribs.

2-And it goes without saying that every player would miss time with a fractured rib cage. You could make an argument that some might miss less time, but that would probably have to include unsupportable assumptions.

John Elway
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Kemp should rebound. He’s not that long in the tooth.

I wouldn’t expect him to be a negative WAR player furlong.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 10 months ago

You’re really going out on a limb saying he’s not a negative WAR player. He was worth 11.6 WAR over only 266 games the 2 seasons before last year’s injury-riddled -.4.

Canucklesndwch
Guest
Canucklesndwch
2 years 10 months ago

Hay – between you, me, and the fencepost – I think this guy is just horsing around. I also can’t believe that at 29 you’d be already pasture prime, and I’d be chomping at the bit to have him on my team.

Jack Donaghy
Guest
Jack Donaghy
2 years 10 months ago

It’s champing at the bit. Horses champ.

John Elway
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I am just horsing around. A healthier Kemp could start feeling his oats and contend for the Triple Crown.

Baseball, that is.

Race Horse
Guest
Race Horse
2 years 10 months ago

With 6 years & $128 million left on Kemp’s contract, I sure hope he won’t have a negative WAR “furlong”.

walt526
Guest
walt526
2 years 10 months ago

Kemp was replacement level only because he accumulated so much negative defensive value in CF. Put the same bat in LF with neutral defense and he’s ~1.5 WAR given that his bat was 2.5 WAR–note, he gets docked about 1 win on the position downgrade from CF (+2.5) to LF (-7.5). Obviously nowhere near what his contract is worth, but he’s still better than replacement level if properly utilized as a corner outfielder.

Nathaniel Dawson
Guest
Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 10 months ago

Yeah, I don’t think anybody really thinks of Kemp as a replacement level player. The question is how much better than replacement you think he would be, and whether it’s worth the risk of taking on his contract. Or, more relevantly, what players would you be willing to trade, and how much money would the Dodgers have to kick in to make a deal attractive?

Go Nats
Guest
Go Nats
2 years 10 months ago

Although he probably has the least upside, of the three, I think the most likely to be traded is Ethier. Crawford has been a top flight star in recent enough memory, so he also carries the risk of turning into a star again after he leaves although I think the odds are less than Kemp. Ethier is less injury prone and easier to project than Kemp and Crawford. Teams will need less to get him. Ethier seems like the one to go to me.

Gates
Guest
Gates
2 years 10 months ago

Jeff,
I love your ideas, but you write as if you get paid per word. A little brevity now and then. Your comp is closer to Ed Hemingway than Ernest Hemingway.

JKA
Guest
JKA
2 years 10 months ago

Kemp’s physical issues are a concern, but I’d also worry about how he’ll adjust to a new team and a new city. Remember he needed his agent to back down the Dodger coaches a few years ago, and while he was the self-proclaimed “leader” of the Dodgers, they seemed to roll along just fine without him last year….

Probably a moot point anyway; unlikely the right deal with the right money dump will come along anyway, although…..we once thought Vernon Wells was untradeable, and we laughed at the idea of Hunter Pence getting $90 million over 5 years….

Matthew
Member
2 years 10 months ago

Shoulder surgery is scare me and Kemp with less power is just…ugh. Especially because he never crushed the ball. I mean Justin Upton might be just as inconsistent, but you always know the power is there when he hits a Willy Mo Pena-esque bomb.

I’d rather take a risk elsewhere. Like Chris Young. He might not hit for a high average, but he has a 30-30 upside and is an elite defender. He can provide a 3-4 WAR season too.

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 10 months ago

“Elite defender.” Huh?

Jake
Guest
Jake
2 years 10 months ago

6th best CF Def in 2012, 2nd best CF Def in 2011. Yes his stats were down in 2013, but it’s not outrageous to make that claim.

pmacho
Member
pmacho
2 years 10 months ago

Where are you finding this statistic?? I do not believe he was the second best defensive center fielder in the mlb.

Jake
Guest
Jake
2 years 10 months ago

Quite literally the “Def” fielding statistic provided at Fangraphs.

His 2011 UZR/150 was 14.6 (2nd behind Ellsbury at 16.1), and his 2011 DRS was 20 (2nd behind Austin Jackson at 29).

Matthew
Member
2 years 10 months ago

I think the Dodgers should probably wait until next season and hope be rebounds. Then convince another team to take him for his 30s. After all, the Dodgers are kinda “all-in” right now.

In order to win, you have to have things go right. Kemp can be one of those things.

Trade Ethier. Sure he is a bit pricey, but he is a known commodity as a consistent 3.0 WAR player. His contract looks to be somewhat reasonable give the Pence deal.

Old School
Guest
Old School
2 years 10 months ago

Matt Kemp was the real 2011 MVP.

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

“It only takes one GM, but all those GMs have support staffs, and all those support staffs can see the same things.”

Technically in this case, it takes two.

BJsworld
Guest
BJsworld
2 years 10 months ago

Agree 100% with Jeff. Nobody is taking on that contract + kicking in real talent unless the Dodgers fork over serious money.

coldseat
Guest
coldseat
2 years 10 months ago

Let’s see – who are the teams in need of OF help with more $$$ than prospects….there seems to be a few and it should get a bit more interesting once the top free agents come off the board.

Abe Lincoln
Guest
Abe Lincoln
2 years 10 months ago

So I take it we all disagree with Dan Szymborski saying that a Kemp for Wright trade wouldn’t be crazy.

Steven Douglas
Guest
Steven Douglas
2 years 10 months ago

We need to let the people of each state decide for themselves whether that trade is or is not crazy. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of our glorious Constitution, our beloved democracy, and our GUARANTEED rights that are cherished by all under the greatest nation on earth!

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
2 years 10 months ago

I haven’t read that article, wherever it is, but that trade would be insane from the Mets’ perspective, assuming you’re talking about David Wright.

jessef
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

but it wouldn’t be crazy from the Dodgers’ perspective if you’re talking about Jaret Wright

Evan
Guest
Evan
2 years 10 months ago

Why do y’all title so many articles “On…..”. It’s not really original, or cute, or creative.

Johnston
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Because they have the benefit of a classical education.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 10 months ago

“Ellsbury, of course, is available as a free agent, and Scott Boras has drawn parallels to the Carl Crawford contract.”

Scott Boras is obviously MUCH MUCH better as his job than I am at mine, but I would THINK, if I was drawing a comparison, I wouldn’t use a contract that was considered an overpay the minute it was signed and has worked out pretty terribly….I don’t know, that’s just me.

“Hey, did you guys like Mike Hampton? How about Matt Garza!?!”

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 10 months ago

Boras has done this before, even using his own clients.

I swear I remember him using Mark Teixeira as a comparison in the 666-page glossy media guide he produced on Prince Fielder. Not sure if this was before or after Teixeira fired him as his agent.

VJ
Guest
VJ
2 years 10 months ago

If Kemp was a free agent now, what kind of contract offers would he get? Anything more than 2 years, low base + incentives?

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 10 months ago

Probably similar to the contract Andruw Jones got from the Dodgers. 2-3 years with total guaranteed money between $35-45 million, and probably an attractive club option at the end.

YankeeGM
Member
YankeeGM
2 years 10 months ago

The perfect situation for Kemp would be the Yankees. Cashman is too dumb, so he’d never do it, but give the Dodgers a couple of no-name prospects for Kemp and have them pay his ’14 salary. That way the Yanks get a potential young star and maintain their 2014 salary cap goal…again, never happen because cashman has ZERO imagination.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 10 months ago

Yeah, I can’t believe Cashman can’t just get the Dodgers to hand over Kemp for zero talent in exchange AND pay his 2014 salary.

Yes, HE’S dumb.

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