LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 05: Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers strikes out to end the game with the New York Mets on July 5, 2011 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Mets won 6-0. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
After years and years as a young man floating around the trade-rumor scene, Matt Kemp is finally settling down.
Matt Kemp is probably going to win the National League MVP next Tuesday. He's already won a Gold Glove. He's 27. By just about every statistical measure, he had the best season of anyone in the major leagues. You can use Matt Kemp to cut through tin cans. Matt Kemp makes your teeth brighter and fights plaque. How much would you pay for Matt Kemp? But wait, there's more. There's even a free trial period, where if you return Matt Kemp, all you pay is the shipping costs.* Don't you want Matt Kemp on your team?
Every team was planning to go goofy for Kemp. The Marlins were going to have him play left-second-short behind Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees might have found a spot for him in a crowded outfield, as would the Red Sox. The Rangers still haven't found a good use for the money that's come in with their new TV deal and postseason success.
Everyone wanted Matt Kemp. Everyone can stand down and focus on the next best thing. Josh Hamilton, perhaps. Michael Bourn. Matt Diaz. Something like that, because the Dodgers agreed to a huge extension with Kemp, tethering the slugger/speedster to the Dodgers until 2019.
It's worth stepping back, though, and remembering how many different times Kemp was the subject of trade rumors, trade suggestions, and front-office dissatisfaction. Of all the players you would have thought would stay with their current team until 2019, Kemp had to be at the bottom of the list. A brief history of Matt Kemp's Dodger career:
After a brief taste of the majors in the previous season, Kemp was called up for good in his age-22 season. He hit .342/.373/.521 in 292 at-bats. Because he was young, toolsy, and hit-three-forty-twosy -- and because Dodgers GM Ned Colleti is a known veteran fetishist -- Kemp was included in every trade rumor of the day.
Acquiring an outfielder of Jones' stature would allow the Dodgers more flexibility for trades, perhaps even to consider moving Matt Kemp as the cornerstone of a package to obtain one of the few prime trade targets on the market like Johan Santana, Erik Bedard or Dan Haren.
The Milwaukee Brewers are talking to the Los Angeles Dodgers about a deal that would send starter Ben Sheets and outfielder Bill Hall to Los Angeles for outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, according to a high-ranking L.A. official.
Kemp couldn't live up to the expectations of his flashy 2007 line, but he had a fine season, hitting .290/.340/.459 and playing a well-regarded center field. He was still just 23, so it was no surprise that every single freaking Dodgers-related trade rumor circled back around to Kemp at some point.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, will try to deal Manny Ramirez even if the Pirates fall out. They can’t do a deal just to the Marlins, but the Dodgers and one other mystery team have been contacted. The Dodgers are thought to be offering Matt Kemp.
Silence. Acceptance that Kemp is an established big leaguer who is underpaid relative to his talents. He stops getting mentioned in every trade rumor, and the Dodgers sign him to a two-year deal to avoid arbitration.
Usually, if a club is willing to risk guaranteed money for multiple years, it expects a discount in return. In effect, signing for the security of multiyears has a player betting against himself. Stewart doesn't sound receptive to a discount for Kemp.
"A lot of times the club is looking for a discount, and if that's what they're looking to do, Matt is on an upward climb; he has no health history," Stewart said. "Everything looks like his career is heading upward. When the time comes, we'll sit and talk seriously about it."
Panic. Loud noises. Kemp is either lazy, dissatisfied, or ornery depending on who is grinding the axe. His numbers crash down to .249/.310/.450, albeit with 28 home runs. There are now two years before he's a free agent, and the time to get something of value for him was nigh.
Said Colletti to KABC radio’s Peter Tilden: "Some guys, I guess, think that they're better than they are. They think the opposition's just going to roll over and get beat by them. That obviously doesn't happen.
"The baserunning's below average. The defense is below average. Why is it? Because he got a new deal? I can't tell you."
Why, then, single out Kemp as trade bait?
Because Ethier looks like he could be a superstar, and because Kemp, for all his flaws, would bring a greater return than the others.
Colletti could dangle Kemp to the Braves, who are deep in young pitching, in need of a right-handed hitting outfielder and in position to exchange a center fielder, Melky Cabrera, who played for Dodgers manager Joe Torre in New York.
"I'm almost to the point — and maybe so are the Dodgers — where I'm thinking that this just isn't going to work," Stewart said. "The Dodgers have gaps on this team, and maybe they could fill them by trading Matt. It could be good for the team, and good for the player."
Matt Kemp is probably going to be the MVP after just missing out on the Triple Crown. He won his second Gold Glove. Los Angeles loves him. He loves Los Angeles. The two of them were seen holding hands and skipping after it was announced that Kemp would receive the largest contract in National League history. He's now the face of the franchise, and all it took was one historically productive season.
But it wasn't always rainbows and candy corn when it came to the Dodgers and Matt Kemp. It's amazing that he's still with them in 2011. It's doubly amazing that he'll probably be with them in 2019.
*Note: shipping costs are several hundred million dollars