The Dodgers long, somewhat tumultuous saga with star outfielder Matt Kemp seems to be drawing closer to its inexorable conclusion, a destiny set in motion last year with the emergence of the king who would be man Yasiel Puig, a gluttony of outfielders, and a team with the best record in the National League being perceived as somehow under-performing their expectations so far.
The outfielder’s agent, former major-league pitcher Dave Stewart, told FOX Sports on Wednesday that Kemp again wants to be an everyday center fielder, something that isn’t in his immediate future with the Dodgers.
...with the return of Carl Crawford from a sprained left ankle last Thursday, the Dodgers again must deal with five healthy outfielders —Crawford, Kemp, Puig, Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke — for three spots.
So Kemp wants to play, first and foremost, and he wants to play center field which, considering what is available to the Dodgers, is very unlikely to be considered for the remainder of his contract. Kemp is likely LA's fourth choice for center field, behind Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, and Carl Crawford, and realistically should probably be considered as the emergency fifth center fielder behind Puig.
Which says nothing of the fact that the Dodgers future center fielder Joc Pederson is waiting in AAA for a roster spot to open up.
But what is really holding Matt Kemp back is a lack of self-awareness; in his inability to understand that he really, really, really should not be playing center field. Or left field. He is, and has been, a defensive liability. For his career, he has posted one season in which he did not cost his team runs with his glove. That was five years and several surgeries ago, playing alongside Manny Ramirez and his dead-kneed excuse for "range".
And while it is admirable for Kemp to want to play the position that he has spent a majority of his life - and his professional career - playing, any team that would open to trading for him would be equally wise to never let him sniff the outfield, let alone the rangiest of all range positions on the field. Jeff Sullivan puts it rather succinctly over at FanGraphs:
Of course, last October, Kemp had ankle surgery. It wasn’t a minor procedure, and Kemp might still be trying to get back to 100%. So we can look over a longer scale, to see how Kemp ranked before going under the knife. Over the 2004 – 2013 decade, among center fielders, Kemp ranked sixth-worst in UZR/150, and ninth-worst in DRS/150. Over just the four years between 2010 – 2013, he ranked third-worst in UZR/150, and fourth-worst in DRS/150. This is one of those situations where both the advanced metrics agree, and they agree on the idea that pre-operation Kemp was a comparable defensive center fielder to Shin-Soo Choo, who is not a center fielder.
All of this is being considered by front offices around the league when it comes to ascertaining whether or not Matt Kemp is a desirable piece to go after. Never mind that he's owed a little over $100 million over the next four years, or that he'll by 34 by the end of his contract, or that he's had some injury concerns, or that there is more than one indication that he isn't exactly the easiest person to get along with.
He's certainly still good, and could be spectacular. But not in center field, and probably not in Los Angeles either.