Ken Rosenthal Wants the Dodgers to Trade Matt Kemp

…and I bet you came here ready for a classic tirade about how a national reporter just doesn’t understand. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. But in this case, I don’t think Rosenthal is entirely wrong. Wrong about trading Kemp, yes, but his overall point is valid. Read the entire article here, but as I’m short on time we’ll just get to the important points – that Kemp has been a disappointment this year, and that the Dodgers have a ton of young players hitting free agency after 2012, as he states:

Kemp, Billingsley, right fielder Andre Ethier, catcher Russell Martin and first baseman James Loney all are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.

Long-term, the Dodgers face a different concern — deciding which of their core young players to keep, and which to let go.

While Kemp, Ethier and Co. are under control for two more seasons, the Dodgers actually will want to act before then; their 2012 free agents will be in line for big paydays after next season as they enter their final year of arbitration.

In this sense, Rosenthal’s not wrong. Does anyone really think that Frank McCourt is going to start magically handing out contract extensions? And if he’s forced to sell the club, you’d have to think that the checkbook would hardly be open while the team is in legal limbo either. Someone – perhaps as soon as this offseason, where Martin is a definite non-tender candidate – is going to have to leave.

Now, Rosenthal argues that Kemp should be the one traded because “for all his flaws, would bring a greater return than the others.” Now if that brings a superstar like Cliff Lee – more on that in a second – that’s an argument worth making. Here’s the problem I have, though: Rosenthal’s arguing they should trade Kemp for relative peanuts.

Colletti could dangle Kemp to the Braves, who are deep in young pitching, in need of a right-handed hitting outfielder and in position to exchange a center fielder, Melky Cabrera, who played for Dodgers manager Joe Torre in New York.

Colletti even could make Kemp part of a larger deal with the Mariners in which the Dodgers would get prospects in addition to two or three months of Lee, then combine those prospects with their own to acquire the RoyalsDavid DeJesus or another center fielder.

Really, Melky Cabrera? The same guy who’s rocking a .664 OPS on the Atlanta bench and has never even been a league-average hitter? Unless the “young pitching” he’s talking about is “Jair Jurrgens, Tommy Hanson, and Cyborg Tommy Hanson” then that’s a complete non-starter. The same goes for DeJesus, who is admittedly a nice player (108 career OPS+) having a completely unprecedented career year at age 30. Again, if that doesn’t come with Zack Greinke, I’m not interested.

But it’s the Lee idea that really throws me off, because even ESPN is picking up on the idea. Let’s not fool ourselves: Cliff Lee is awesome. In 86.2 innings this year, he has 76 strikeouts and 4 walks. Four. That’s a 19/1 K/BB ratio. You’re goddamn right I want him on my team, and the thought of a playoff rotation headed up by Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda is beyond tasty.

But does trading Kemp for Lee really help the team? In the long run, it’s a disaster. Lee’s a free agent after the season, and destined for an enormous payday, which the Dodgers could never match. Meanwhile, Kemp is under contract for two more seasons beyond this one, and with Manny gone after the season, the Dodgers are already going to have trouble filling one outfield hole, much less two.

In the short run.. well, I’m not sure so it helps that much either. Perhaps it’s because I have a ton of faith in Kemp to turn it around, but perhaps it’s because I’m wondering if that means Xavier Paul or Reed Johnson would be your new center fielder. As much as I like Paul, I’ve been saying he should be replacing Garret Anderson – not Kemp. If not them, maybe they’d pick up some short-term fix for the rest of the year, but certainly no one who could have half the potential of Kemp.

Look, I won’t pretend that Kemp hasn’t been a disappointment over the last two months, especially on the basepaths (not just the bonehead plays, but the brutally bad stealing percentage), and his offense has been in decline since April. He’s also 25, on pace for about 27 homers, with a 110 OPS+. As for the defense, we should all know better than to trust defensive metrics over three months. Hell, most statisticians believe that even a full season of defensive stats isn’t enough to evaulate a player, and just in the same way that I never thought Kemp was deserving of the Gold Glove he won last year, I don’t think he’s as bad as the numbers say this year. Besides, I’m not crushed if it turns out he’s not a center fielder. If, in a year or two, Trayvon Robinson or someone similar is the Dodger center fielder with Kemp in right and Ethier in left, that’s an outfield I can live with.

Rosenthal’s right: one of the free agency core has to go, and soon. But not Kemp, not now, and certainly not for a free-agent-to-be, no matter how awesome Lee is.

Totally unrelated but still awesome: reader Dennis writes in to point out that the Dodgers are 13-2 in games in which Garret Anderson doesn’t get to play. Ha!

Oh look, the second awesome weekend series in a row, and the second weekend in a row I’ll be out of town – until the Sunday night game, anyway. It can be argued that the Dodgers have the pitching advantage in two of the three games; not tonight’s Sabathia/Padilla matchup, for sure, but Hiroki Kuroda is certainly outpitching A.J. Burnett as far as Saturday’s starters go, and Clayton Kershaw vs. Andy Pettitte on Sunday night should be a treat.