The Red Sox have been mulling over a trade for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp according to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston. A few years ago, when Kemp was a superstar, this would have been exciting news. Now, however, it's more concerning than anything else.
Kemp, who's a couple months shy of 30, has undergone multiple surgeries over the last two years, leaving him absent for much of 2013, and far less productive than in his peak years of 2011-2012. When Kemp was at his best, he was one of the league's most feared hitters, producing a .324/.399/.586 batting line despite playing in an unfavorable ballpark. Between 2013 and 2014, that figure has fallen to .272/.334/.414. Decent given his locale, but hardly impressive.
Of course, for a center fielder that sort of offense would be well above the curve. But Matt Kemp is only a center fielder in the way Adrian Gonzalez was a right fielder back in 2012. Say what you will about defensive metrics, but the numbers are staggering. According to DRS, Kemp has cost his team 21 runs in the outfield this season. UZR has him barely any better at -18 runs, on pace for 35 before the year is over. Some of that might be mitigated by a move in front of the Monster, yes, but not all of it. Even in the corners Kemp grades out pretty terribly. It's so bad that FanGraphs has him at a -0.3 WAR on the season, with Baseball Reference coming in even lower at -1.1!
The reality of the situation is that Matt Kemp needs to be viewed as a DH until he's proven that he can either hit like Manny or play better defense than he did in front of the Monster. But of course there's a major problem there in that the Red Sox have a DH: one David Ortiz, who has shown no indication that he's looking to hang up his cleats just yet.
In fact, they also have a left fielder in Daniel Nava. It sounds absolutely ridiculous to put Nava up against Kemp, but Kemp just hasn't given us any reason not to these past two years. Nava actually has the higher wRC+ since 2013, even factoring in his terrible April, and while he's far from a star in the field, his glove is not so bad that it completely negates his value.
Kemp certainly brings upside to the table that Nava does not. But how much are the Red Sox really willing to bet on that upside? Even if the Dodgers eat 50% of his contract, the Red Sox would be committing to $50 million over five years for a player who has not proven himself to be worth much of anything in the last two seasons. And they'd be displacing a player who has performed better in recent years for their trouble. And that's without even considering opportunity costs if the Red Sox had to send something the Dodgers' way for the privilege. God help us if this is what the Red Sox hope to get back in a potential Jon Lester deal.
Two years ago the Dodgers bailed the Red Sox out from underneath some big albatross contracts. In a big way, we have them to thank for 2013. But that doesn't mean they should be looking to repay the favor.