How motivated are the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp? How motivated should they be?
Depends whom you ask.
Some rival executives say the Dodgers want to move Kemp. The team certainly is open to trade offers. But at least one club that asked about Kemp – the Red Sox – did not get the sense that the Dodgers were eager to make a deal, according to major-league sources.
Three other American League teams – the Indians, Mariners and Rangers – also have called on Kemp, but none made an actual proposal, sources say.
The level of interest from each team varied – the Indians did not engage in substantive conversations with the Dodgers, and the Rangers’ interest was believed to be only cursory. The Mariners, meanwhile, consider themselves a “longshot” to land Kemp, according to a source.
Money is an obstacle toward any trade – Kemp will be owed about $7 million for the rest of the season at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, then $107 million from 2015 to ’19. The Dodgers almost certainly would need to include significant cash to facilitate any deal.
The bigger question for the Dodgers, though, is whether they even should trade Kemp. And that is a complicated question indeed.
Kemp, after a resurgent June, is batting .246 with a .591 OPS in July. The Dodgers, however, still view him as one of their prime right-handed threats, along with shortstop Hanley Ramirez and right fielder Yasiel Puig. Both those players currently are nursing hand/thumb injuries, and Puig has hit only one home run in 160 at-bats since May 29 (Kemp has hit three home runs in 166 at-bats during that time).
Meanwhile, the team’s two left-handed hitting outfielders, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, both have on-base/slugging percentages below .700 for the season. The overall health of the group also remains a concern; in 219 games since Puig’s promotion in June 2013, Puig, Kemp, Ethier and Crawford have been healthy and able to play only 41 times, according to Dodgers research.
Other factors, however, could push the Dodgers to trade Kemp.
Manager Don Mattingly and Kemp are at odds, sources say, in part because of Kemp’s publicly stated desire to return to center field. Informed recently by reporters that Kemp views himself as a center fielder, Mattingly said, “That’s fine. He can view himself however he wants. I’m playing him in left.”
Mattingly moved Kemp to left on May 28 because of the outfielder’s sub-par defensive performance in center. Ethier and Scott Van Slyke have manned the position since, but in truth, the Dodgers don’t have a true center fielder. Kemp has played right the last two nights and looked comfortable, prompting Mattingly to ponder yet another option in center – Puig.
The Dodgers’ best defensive center fielder – and the one Mattingly wants most, according to sources – is Joc Pederson, a top prospect at Triple A.
Other club officials, however, do not view Pederson as a finished product.
Pederson, 22, is batting .324 with a 1.025 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, but also has struck out 107 times in 309 at-bats. His maturity is another concern; Pederson was benched for not running hard to first in early June, and ejected for throwing his helmet and arguing a called third strike on Tuesday night.
Promoting Pederson without trading Kemp would create an untenable logjam, giving the Dodgers six healthy outfielders. Promoting Pederson also could lead to other problems, particularly if he struggles under the demands of playing for a large-market contender.
Veterans such as Ethier and Crawford probably would not react well to reduced playing time if Pederson was hitting poorly and making wild throws (his arm is considered strong but occasionally erratic).
So, is trading Kemp to the answer to all this?
Maybe, if the Dodgers conclude that Mattingly and Kemp no longer can co-exist. That Pederson is ready to provide a jolt. And that – if club officials include enough cash in a deal – they can effectively buy prospects and set up other moves.
Seems like a major leap with the July 31 non-waiver deadline little more than a week away. But one rival executive says the Dodgers would “kill” to move Kemp. Another suggests that they simply need to bring their trade desires more in line with how the industry views him.