The Mets are in agreement with veteran outfielder Matt Kemp on a minor-league contract, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported on Friday. As you may imagine would be the case for a 34-year-old whose career has been derailed by arthritis, the deal is pending a physical.
Kemp, who was traded from the Dodgers to the Reds this offseason, got off to a horrid start with Cincinnati (a .200/.210/.283 slash line with one homer and a -0.9 bWAR) and was released after 20 games as the team opened up playing time for highly-regarded prospect Nick Senzel.
Despite that terrible start and the fact that he’s been very inconsistent over the last half-decade, Kemp is just a year removed from tearing it up for the Dodgers during the first half and earning a starting spot on the NL All-Star team. He hit .310/.352/.522 with 15 homers before the break, though after posting a medicore-by-comparison .719 OPS after the break — one that probably wasn’t good enough to justify his below-average defense — Kemp finished the year with a .290/.338/.481 slash line and 21 homers (which is still a very good offensive performance, by the way) and frequently found himself on the bench during LA’s postseason run.
The Kemp signing is the latest move in the Mets’ desperate quest to add outfield depth, which they’ve often done by adding veterans like Kemp who are probably past their prime but were once very good players. In the past week, the Mets have added 33-year-old Carlos Gómez and 38-year-old Rajai Davis to their big-league roster after both players began the year at Triple-A Syracuse thanks to a unique interpretation of the CBA by new GM Brodie Van Wagenen. Though major-league teams generally grant Article XX-B free agents — basically established veteran big-leaguers who come to spring training on minor-league contracts — their release if they don’t break camp with the big-league club, Van Wagenen instead chose to pay all his XX-B players a retention bonus, which enabled him to keep them in Syracuse at least through June 1. (He did the same with former Giant Gregor Blanco, though to this point the 35-year-old is still in Triple-A.) In addition, the team claimed Aaron Altherr off waivers earlier this week, just over a week after he was claimed by the Giants from the Phillies and then quickly DFA’d again.
These moves have been necessary, at least in the eyes of Van Wagenen, because of the way injuries have ravaged the Mets’ outfield in recent weeks. The team was already without Yoenis Cespedes to begin the season as he completed his recovery from double heel surgery, which ended his 2018 season last July. They recently found out that they’ll almost certainly be without him for the entirety of 2018, and perhaps beyond, after he suffered a major ankle injury in a mysterious non-baseball-related accident at his Florida ranch.
Beyond that, Michael Conforto hasn’t played since May 16 due to a concussion, Brandon Nimmo has been out since May 20 due to a stiff neck (and wasn’t playing well at the time of his placement on the injured list, anyway), utility man (and anchor of the lineup) Jeff McNeil went on the injured list Thursday with a hamstring strain. The team has increasingly relied on J.D. Davis, a natural infielder, to play the outfield in recent days, and with Nimmo and Conforto both out, they’ve needed Juan Lagares (.583 OPS in 2019) to start in center field on a near-everyday basis.