Update, 11:22am PT: SI’s Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers and Kemp are in agreement, pending a physical, and that Kemp would recieve a full no-trade clause. (As though the numbers involved here aern’t enough of a no-trade clause on their own. Earlier this morning, I received a press release that Kemp would be joining Frank McCourt to dedicate a new Dodger Dream Field in Compton at 1pm PT today; Steve Dilbeck notes that Kemp was not originally scheduled to attend, but has been added to the event. Sounds like as good a place to announce a contract as any to me, right?)
Confirming @Ken_Rosenthal get, the Dodgers and Kemp are getting close. 8 years and $160m is about right.
First and foremost, put aside the numbers for a second. Yes. So much yes. If it happens, this would be such a big get for the Dodgers for so many reasons. With all of the McCourt garbage of the last few years, with all of the rumors that the Dodgers would be completely neutralized and unable to act this winter, with all of the worry that Kemp & Andre Ethier and maybe even Clayton Kershaw would be gone before this mess is all sorted out, this one move could be an immense positive to fans and even players who have written this franchise off. It’s a sign that no matter what else happens, Kemp will be here long into the future, and as the ownership situation gets closer to being resolved, it gives us more hope that the Dodgers could once again be open for business. As I’ve been saying for weeks, this is the top priority of the offseason, and if it happens then the winter is a success, no matter how many silly contracts the Dodgers hand out to mediocre veterans.
From a more historic level, this could potentially keep Kemp in Dodger blue until he’s 34. That’s great because you’re buying most of his prime, not most of his decline, but it’s also a phenomenal sign because the Dodgers have done a poor job in recent years of keeping their own young star players. Mike Piazza? Traded to the Marlins. Adrian Beltre? Lost via free agency to Seattle. The club hasn’t had a home-grown player stay with the team for at least ten seasons since Eric Karros & Dave Hansen left after 2002, and neither of those are guys were exactly franchise cornerstones. Kemp could potentially be a Dodger for the first 14 years of his career, becoming the hero of a generation of Dodger fans.
Of course, you can’t completely ignore the numbers, and Aaron Gleeman notes the risk at NBC’s Hardball Talk:
$160 million would be tied for the seventh-largest contract in MLB history, matching Manny Ramirez’s deal with the Red Sox in 2001. Troy Tulowitzki recently agreed to a six-year, $119 million extension with the Rockies that brought Colorado’s total commitment to the shortstop to $157.5 million over 10 seasons, but unlike Kemp he was under team control for several more seasons and not on the verge of cashing in as an in-his-prime a free agent.
Make no mistake, it’s a ton of money, and with Kershaw about to get expensive, there’s a definite danger in tying up so much money in one player. (I’m also waiting for the “yeah, and it’ll be backloaded to be 1/2/3/4/5/48/48/48 over the life of the contract” jokes, though it would almost certainly have some sort of backloading.) In this case, an overpay is warranted, simply because this club could not withstand the PR hit of losing Kemp for nothing after next season. The Dodgers simply had to do something to win back fans, and while the news that McCourt would sell is welcome, it’s still something that takes place in faraway court rooms for most fans. This would be a real, tangible commitment to putting a winning team on the field. Not that there aren’t concerns; you wonder how long Kemp can really stay in center (though it’s not like having a strong-armed power-hitting right fielder is such a terrible thing), and there are those who have noted that Kemp is only one year off a 2010 that many termed as a disappointment. Like there would be with any large investment, this contract wouldn’t be 100% free of doubt.
On the other hand, is it even really an overpay? Kemp’s an MVP candidate in his age-26 season, and he’s passing up the opportunity to go out on the free market next year and get wined and dined by the Red Sox & Yankees (among others), who would surely be salivating at the prospect of adding a player with his rare blend of speed and power. An average of $20m/year, considering what Prince Fielder & Albert Pujols are likely to get to play a far less important position, could be seen as almost a bargain. (Okay, almost.)
I try to keep things subjective around here, wanting to make decisions more with my head than with my heart. But in this case, they’re one and the same – let’s make this happen, and the dollars be damned. This team needs Matt Kemp, and not just because of what it means on the field.