Dodgers smart in deciding not to trade Kemp
Los Angeles better off keeping star center fielder and moving Ethier or Crawford
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Well, there you go. The Dodgers have solved the awful problem of what to do with Matt Kemp.
Turns out, based on what they told agent Dave Stewart on Wednesday, they're going to keep him. This is bad, bad news ... at least to the other teams in the National League West, if not the NL as a whole.
Paying someone else to take a speed/power center fielder with major leadership skills and fans who still think the 2011 MVP season was just a start for him? That's not how the Dodgers roll in this frenetic era of Mark Walter/Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten.
These guys operate on the principles of Pac-Man, gobbling up talent and swallowing the baseball landscape as they attempt to clear the board. They may have done due diligence on a Kemp trade, discussing him with the Mariners and Red Sox, and probably a few teams where the talks went unreported, but very few executives believed they would deal him.
"Why would you trade that guy?" a general manager asked Tuesday night. "He's too good to let get away. If he comes back and he's right -- and with the injuries he's had, there's no reason to believe he won't -- then he's a guy you can't replace."
Since the Dodgers were purchased from Frank McCourt by the Guggenheim Partners in 2012, general manager Ned Colletti has explored every option available to him, because nothing is off-limits to the owners that brought postseason baseball back to Chavez Ravine. The tire-kicking episode with Kemp shows that applies to subtraction as well as addition but Walter didn't build his fund-managing portfolio by selling valuable assets when they were at their low point.
That's what chickens do. And the guys who run the Dodgers these days aren't chickens.
They're more like the velociraptors from "Jurassic Park."
With Kemp out of play -- a concept more or less validated by the Mariners signing Corey Hart later Wednesday -- the Dodgers can shift their attention to an effort that seems far less risky: finding a team that's up against it financially that would like to have Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford for 50 cents on the dollar.
It's hard to know if they can find such a team. But Ethier is a pro's pro who could fill a role for a team building with younger players or needing solid play in the outfield. Crawford, who hinted at being right again by hitting .310 with four home runs and a .975 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 10 playoff games, could be an impact guy for a team like the Orioles, Mariners or Giants (although it takes a lot of imagination to find a match with that last team).
Ethier, then on the threshold of free agency, signed his six-year, $85 million deal in June 2012, about a month after Walter's group paid $2 billion for the team. That was before Crawford was acquired in the mega-deal with Boston and Yasiel Puig, one of the game's most dynamic players, was signed from Cuba.
That leaves the Dodgers with one outfielder too many, which is a problem, even if Colletti and Don Mattingly say it is not.
"It's a good problem to have for me," Mattingly said Tuesday. "I think we can make that work."
Kemp, currently in a walking boot after surgery on his left ankle, is in no position to complain about overcrowding. But here's the thing. He is the epitome of a modern alpha male. He needs a little more oxygen than the rest of us, and whether he says it or not, you know it would help him to know he is going to be the everyday center fielder once he gets out of the training room.
It's nice to have depth at a position, and with Kemp and Ethier both battered, the Dodgers did give Skip Schumaker five starts in center field last October. But the economics of baseball haven't reached a point where $15.5 million players (Ethier's salary in 2014) fit in platoons. Colletti does need to offload one of the big-ticket outfielders and import somebody who would be a better fit as a spare part, such as Alejandro De Aza or Dayan Viciedo of the White Sox, who are on the market after the addition of Adam Eaton.
Kemp, limited to 179 games by hamstring, knee, shoulder and ankle injuries the last two seasons, isn't likely to develop Rafael Palmeiro-like consistency as a run producer but the next five years could be the best five of his career. He's one strong spring away from regaining his confidence, and there is a chance that he'll get a reprieve from his injuries. This is a guy who averaged 159 games a year in 2008-11. He may never again play that many but scouts believe he could still be hell on wheels for 150.
Trade him and pay him to play somewhere else? That was never a good idea.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.