Just two years ago, Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp was the premiere outfielder in the Major Leagues. Kemp very nearly won the Triple Crown award in 2011, which would have been the first such award since 1967 and first in the National League since 1937. Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 HR and 126 RBI in 2011, leading the National League in home runs and RBI. He just missed out on the Triple Crown by 13 batting average points to Miami’s Jose Reyes, finishing third. He even stole 40 bases.
In terms of Kemp’s performance, though, 2011 seems more like a decade ago rather than two years. Combining 2012 and 2013, Kemp has played in 179 games. While still productive in 2012, he played just 73 games this past season due to a variety of injuries but mainly to his left ankle. His .270 average and .328 OBA are still good, but his run production greatly suffered. He hobbled off the field on crutches as the Dodgers prepared for the postseason, and he had ankle surgery to remove bone spurs and loose bodies from his ankle.
Why, then would Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington want to trade talent away for Kemp now? Apparently, though, Cherington could. The Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo reports that the Red Sox have asked about Kemp. Cafardo writes,
“The Red Sox are one of several teams who have made inquiries on Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp according to a major league source. The Red Sox have probably made a few dozen of these types of calls on trades and free-agents, but Kemp is certainly intriguing.”
It is intriguing to me because it appears that Cherington will not try to meet Jacoby Ellsbury‘s asking price of six years and $100 million to retain the team catalyst. Ellsbury had some leg problems this year, but he showed himself perfectly healthy at the end of the season and throughout the postseason. Kemp, though, still has six years and $128 million left on his contract, and he has not shown himself ready to return to a Major League field just yet. The two players are approximately the same age, too.
Boston needs a lead-off hitter to replace Ellsbury, and Kemp is not one. Most teams will not trade away their good lead-off man, so Cherington should look to the free agent market to satisfy that need and the need for a center fielder. CBS Sports.com ranks Shin-Soo Choo as the #4 free agent position player. Choo has speed and power from the lead-off spot (20 SB, 21 HR for the Reds in 2013), but he, too, will demand a huge contract in his first free agency period. After Choo, there are not many good lead-off men available. David DeJesus re-signed with Tampa Bay, but Rajai Davis (from Toronto) is still available. He has stolen 91 bases in 250 games in the past two seasons combined, but his .310 OBA needs improvement.
On that note, Dustin Pedroia may make the best lead-off hitter option for Boston. Cherington could then continue to try to reign in Carlos Beltran and search for a center fielder for the middle of the order via trade or free agency. Beltran is a good #2 hitter from both sides of the plate.
Matt Kemp is a very good player, but he is not the solution to losing Jacoby Ellsbury. Once Kemp proves that he is healthy, then that notion could change. Until then, Cherington may have some better options available for his lead-off hitter and center fielder. He needs to continue the search.