Admittedly, when the big trade with the Braves went down not long before Christmas, I was thinking to myself that there was no way Matt Kemp would make the Los Angeles 25-man roster. As a matter of fact, just a few days after the deal, I wrote a story about how Rob Segedin would make a better choice than Kemp. At the time, the general consensus was that Kemp would be immediately flipped to another club, even if the return was minimal for the Dodgers.
Yet, as the winter progressed, Kemp seemed to be settling in. Several of his teammates, most specifically Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, were campaigning in some shape or form for him to stay. Kemp was working hard, as made evident by his weight loss and physical condition. For all intents and purposes, he was busting his tail to earn a spot on the team.
Defense aside, the guy can still hit. He tallied 19 long balls last year, despite an injury riddled campaign. And if we drift back to the 2016 season when he was healthy, the Oklahoma native blasted 39 doubles, 35 homers and 108 RBI. On top of that, he’s been notoriously successful against southpaw pitching throughout his career, having logged a lifetime .319/.380/.542 slash line. And, he still has somewhat of a decent arm, although it’s a far cry from the throwing ability he had several years back when he was right up there with some of the best guns in the game.
So if the Dodgers were going to pay him more than $20 million anyway, why not give him a chance? Besides, if he were able to produce, there are several other players in the picture who have options to create some space. In my mind, it made sense from a couple different perspectives.
Not long after players reported to Camelback for spring camp, my dangerous mind got to thinking again. I’m now thinking a Kemp inclusion would clearly disrupt the foundation of the squad which journeyed to Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a huge Kemp fan, and I also believe that team chemistry is one of those things which is built over the full course of a season. But the more I put together prospective lineups for the upcoming year, the more I’m convinced Kemp’s presence would throw the club’s functionality out of whack—and that’s not even taking into consideration is supposed attitude adjustment.
The biggest reason for this is the prospective lineups against left-handed pitching. The important thing to remember is that the Dodgers will be facing a southpaw starter about 33% of the time, as righty starters in the MLB roughly outnumber lefties at a two to one ratio. So with an opposing lefty on the bump, we presumably have Chris Taylor in center field—because Logan Forsythe is absolutely going to be in the lineup, being the southpaw killer he is. And despite his reverse-split tendencies last season, Yasiel Puig will start most of the time in right. This scenario still allows room for Kemp in left field, however, we need to make room for Enrique Hernandez.
According to some, Kemp is still a better offensive option than Hernandez, but if Kiké is going to be on the roster—and he will—he’s going to be in the lineup against a lefty starter. Sure, he could conceivably spell Corey Seager at short, but the times that Seager warrants a rest will be few and far between. The same can be said with Turner at third base, despite his own apparent reverse splits. Therefore, the most logical starting spot for Hernadez is left field. And there’s no way a roster spot battle comes down to Hernandez vs. Kemp—Hernandez is just too versatile in terms of positioning, plus he has a much better glove.
Furthermore, it would be almost impossible to carry both players, especially when considering Chase Utley‘s apparent limitations. Couple that with the probability that the club goes with an eight-man bullpen to begin the year, and the logical reasoning for keeping Kemp just isn’t there. And to have him solely as a right-handed bat of the bench doesn’t make sense at all.
Moreover, against righty pitching, there still isn’t much space for Kemp, mainly because one of Joc Pederson or Andrew Toles will be seeing the lion’s share of time in left field, so long as they are healthy and producing. And with Utley being around to spell Forsythe at second, Taylor stays put in center while Puig stays in right, as both have the ability to impressively handle right-handed pitching.
All that said, I’m going to set my preferred outfield with Puig, Taylor and Pederson as the primary contributors, in addition to having Hernandez in there as the specialist against lefty pitching and Tolesy filling the secondary role of providing cover in all three spots. If Toles is indeed ready to go, by no means does it make sense to carry Kemp over him, even if Toles has options on his contract. Toles can cover all three spots, he has a better arm, he’s quicker, has superior range, and may not be far behind Kemp’s ability to produce at the dish.
For what it’s worth, that’s the way I see it—at least until I change my mind again next week.
(FOLLOW DENNIS ON TWITTER: @THINKBLUEPC)