October 7th, 2014, it’s a day that, in the minds of Dodger fans, can feel like decades ago. It’s the day that the Dodgers lost in the NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s also the day that Matt Kemp played his last game with Los Angeles.
At least, that’s what we thought when he was traded to the San Diego Padres on December 18th, 2014.
A reunion with the legendary Dodgers outfielder never seemed like a possible reality. And then, it did. This past December, almost exactly three years since he left the Dodgers, he rejoined the club, but the team he was returning to was not the same one he left behind.
2014 was not that long ago. In the minds of many, the memory of that season’s NLCS still stings. At the same time, the Dodgers are a wildly different team than they were back then. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi had yet to take over as the President of Baseball Operations and GM. Don Mattingly was still the manager and would spend one more year in L.A. before leaving to become the skipper of the Marlins. The only players from the 2014 squad, and who are still with the team now are Clayton Kershaw, Joc Pederson, Kenley Jansen, Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yimi Garcia and Pedro Baez.
When Kemp walked back on to the grounds of Camelback Ranch for the first time in four years, he was greeted by a very different team.
But who said that different was bad?
Cactus League play has been underway since last Friday, but I can already tell that Kemp has found his place in the Dodgers outfield. He brings the veteran presence that L.A. lost when they traded Adrian Gonzalez (who went to Atlanta in the same trade that brought Kemp back to LA.) He’s a vet, and he still remembers how to play Dodger baseball. He’s a career .285 hitter with two years left on an 8-year contract—a pact that he signed when he was last in Dodger Blue.
With a month left until Opening Day, the more pressing question in regards to Kemp is not “will he help us win a World Series?” The answer, though early and maybe a little bit presumptuous is yes. Matt Kemp, should he hit in the manner he is accustomed to, could help the Dodgers potentially win the World Series.
However, the more urgent question is this; how does he fit in with the new Los Angeles Dodgers?
Should Kemp still be with the team when they head back to Los Angeles for Opening Day, which seems likely, he will join an outfield made up of Puig, Pederson, Chris Taylor, and Kiké Hernandez. Any combination of those players in the outfield gives the Dodgers their best chance to win.
Kemp is a solid bat in the lineup. He’d most likely be hitting in the middle part of the order, with Taylor hitting leadoff and Cody Bellinger having established himself as a bonafide cleanup hitter.
Kemp will bring a wave of nostalgia with him when he returns to L.A. wearing blue for the first time in years. He brings a hint of who this team used to be, while also willing to evolve with them. He is the perfect mix of talent, and could blend well with the club’s chemistry. He is exactly the kind of player the Dodgers need.
How does Matt Kemp fit in with the new Los Angeles Dodgers?
It feels like he never left.
(FOLLOW SARAH ON TWITTER: @SARAHMANINGER)