Right about now at Dodger Stadium, the team is preparing to make the announcement we’ve been waiting for all week – confirmation of Matt Kemp‘s new eight-year, $160m contract. Dylan Hernandez has the yearly breakdown:
Kemp reportedly does not have a no-trade clause included, though that’s largely irrelevant; either he’ll play well enough that the Dodgers won’t want to move him or the dollar figure will make him impossible to move anyway. (Unless Tony Reagins gets another GM gig, I suppose.)
The big item there is that Kemp will count as only $8m against this year’s budget, a big deal since he might have otherwise made in the $14m-16m range through arbitration. With the concerns about what’s left to fit under the 2012 payroll ceiling, taking back a few extra million might just be the difference between Hiroki Kuroda or pretending I like Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang or Jeff Francis. As for the deal itself, having had a few days to digest this, my feelings haven’t really changed. This is an enormous amount of money, by far the biggest in both team & league history, and there’s inherent risk that goes along with that. But if you’re going to make that gamble, making it on an athletic outfielder that you know well and who is just entering his prime is a much smarter choise than doing it on a player already into his 30s who is an uncertain commodity. (Yes, I’m talking about Jayson Werth‘s seven-year deal, though others apply as well.) As risks go, this is among the safer ones, though it’d be nice if the contract also contained language restricting Davey Lopes from ever wandering more than 50 feet from Dodger Stadium for the rest of his life.
Besides, though there’s no arguing the shocking dollar amounts here, this isn’t likely to be the biggest or even the second-biggest contract signing of the offseason. Albert Pujols could get north of $200m, and Prince Fielder is still targeting Ryan Howard‘s $25m/year as his baseline. Once we see where those land, ~$20m/year for a player who is neither over 30 (like Pujols), terrifyingly built (like Fielder), or tethered to first base (like both) could seem almost like a bargain. Even if Kemp doesn’t exactly repeat his fantastic 2011 every season, he’s still likely to be the 4-5 win player that it’d take to make this contract worthwhile.
Taking a larger view, this signing was more important than just baseball, anyway. Sure, locking up your MVP candidate center fielder is fantastic, but as I hardly need to remind you, the last two years have been nightmarish for the Dodgers and their fans. Letting their most marketable homegrown star walk for nothing – or even having to deal with an entire 2012 of “is this Kemp’s last season?” - would have been yet another massive PR disaster after dozens upon dozens of them.
If that required paying a premium, well, so be it. It’s a good day to be Matt Kemp, I’m guessing; it’s definitely a good day to be a Dodger fan.