The Dodgers Will Trade An Outfielder, Unless They Don’t

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I have to be honest, I’m not particularly interested in writing about trading one of the Dodger outfielders. We all know the score by now, don’t we? The team has four highly-paid outfielders, which is one too many even if you don’t consider Joc Pederson, except that all four can stay healthy at the same time precisely never. Trade one of them and risk having not enough healthy outfielders and more days where guys like Skip Schumaker & Jerry Hairston are starting; don’t trade one of them, and risk having an expensive, unhappy veteran on the bench.

That being said, it’s going to be a topic of conversation all winter long, so we can’t avoid it. Ken Rosenthal kicks it off today:

That possibility, in fact, already is in the works; the Dodgers, according to major-league sources, are listening on Matt KempAndre Ethier and Carl Crawford, telling prospective suitors, “If you’re interested in one of them, make us an offer.”

This is presented as news, but it’s not, really. “Team willing to not hang up on someone proposing a trade” isn’t really earth-shattering, and you should always really listen on every player, even if you have no real intention of moving them.

And that’s sort of the problem here. Even if you do want to trade one of them — and by “them” I mean Ethier, Kemp, and Crawford, because Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere —  their contracts and injury histories make it difficult to expect a solid return. Or as a “rival exec” replied to Rosenthal when asked which one was the most desirable, “none”.

Which is totally fair. I don’t need to remind you how painful Kemp’s 2013 was, nor of the $128m still due him. Crawford’s season was better than we had any right to expect considering just how uncertain he was after two awful years in Boston and Tommy John surgery; he’s also no longer a star, going to turn 33 next year, with $81.5m still coming, and missed time with hamstring injuries. And while Ethier certainly made himself a lot more valuable in the second half after making his extension look so, so bad one year in, he’s still an obviously flawed player who cannot hit lefties, will soon be 32, and has potentially $86.5m remaining if his reasonably attainable 2018 player option vests.

In the right deal, I’d move any of the three — yes, even Kemp, because while the fan in me wants him to be a Dodger forever, the objective observer in me understands that a trade can’t ever be off the table. And all have some amount of value, especially if the Dodgers eat a good deal of the contract, and Ethier seems to be the one most likely to move. (Mets fans and writers are already hypothesizing about it, actually, but Daniel Murphy isn’t that interesting and it’s certainly not like David Wright is coming back, so prepare yourself for mid-level minor leaguers.)

The problem is that for me, “the right deal” includes getting something useful back. It can’t just be a salary dump, especially in Kemp’s case, because I still believe he can be a high-quality player when healthy. But with so much money still due all three of these questionable players, it’s easy for another team to say “screw it, I’ll just get into the Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson” sweepstakes, for less risk and without sending back talent. That’s what makes finding “the right deal” difficult or potentially impossible. And that’s what’s going to make a winter of rumors around these three such a long, complicated one, because believe me, we haven’t heard the last of this.

Life Is Pain: No Matt Kemp In October

kemp_bench_2013-05-25Hey, you guys remember the long-ago times of this morning when I half-seriously mentioned that Skip Schumaker might be the starting center fielder in the playoffs but that I wasn’t really worried about it, because all signs indicated that Matt Kemp would be there? I think I also said that “Kemp’s health absolutely cannot be counted on,” and now I’m realizing that there is no higher power and we’re all going to die alone, cold and unloved.

This is all coming back now because we just learned that not only will Kemp not play in Game 1, he won’t play at all, having now been shut down for the entire season thanks to his sore left ankle, going so far as to say “if I keep playing on it, my ankle could break”. David Vassegh adds that Kemp learned the news in the “3rd or 4th inning” today, after an MRI that Eric Stephen tells us showed “major swelling in one of the weight-bearing bones”, which (this one via Bill Shaikin) may need about a month to heal. Dylan Hernandez adds that Kemp will also have cleanup surgery on the shoulder that started this run of injuries, and WHY CAN’T WE HAVE NICE THINGS?

It’s important to remember that the Dodgers played without Kemp for basically the whole year anyway, and the majority of that incredible second-half run came without him, so it’s not like hope for the playoffs dies with him. But the larger problem here is that Andre Ethier — who managed to man center field surprisingly well while steadily improving his offensive production — is still far from a definite to play with an ankle injury of his own, and may be limited to pinch-hitting since he can’t show that he’s able to run at full speed. (And as much as I’ve been willing to credit Ethier for playing a reasonable center when I thought he had no prayer of doing so, the thought of a limited Ethier out there is just terrifying.)

This is still a good team, don’t forget. It’s still a team with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Kenley Jansen on the mound; they still have Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup, and Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig have both been far more productive than Kemp or Ethier at the plate this year. So this is far from a knockout blow, and it’s important we remember that, even if this might bring the double whammy of getting Jerry Hairston onto the playoff roster.

But man… the season ended something like an hour ago, and we’re not really enjoying the anticipation for the playoffs, are we? I’m think people are freaking out. I’m not sure they’re wrong. “Skip Schumaker, starting center fielder” tends to have that effect.

Giants 6, Dodgers 4: Good News Only, Please

kemp_2013-09-25Ricky Nolasco looked atrocious again for the third start in a row, and this is becoming a problem.

Barry Zito, in potentially the final start of his career — though who are we kidding, each and every one of us knows he’s going to be a Dodger non-roster invite in the spring — basically shut down a playoff offense over five innings, which would be a problem if it weren’t so hilariously predictable.

Carlos Marmol looked wild, even for Marmol, and I continue to back Edinson Volquez for the playoff roster over him, at least until Volquez gets rocked tomorrow.

Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, & Jerry Hairston did little to make me feel better about their inclusion on the playoff roster bench, either, going 0-10 between them — though Dee Gordon hitting for Hairston in the ninth is a fun wrinkle that we can talk about. (Gordon popped out, which is why I’m only interested in him as a pinch-runner, and too bad, too; a suddenly shaven Adrian Gonzalez pinch-hit and doubled off the wall with two outs, but Hanley Ramirez grounded out hard to third to Nick Noonan to end the game.)

But you know what? The takeaway from this isn’t a negative one. It’s that Matt Kemp doubled and had three hits — fine, at least one was a bloop — giving him five hits in two days. I’m not prepared to announce that “he’s back,” or anything like that, but he certainly looks good at the plate, and with the continued uncertainty around Andre Ethier, the Dodgers could certainly use some good health news in the outfield. If — and I realize this is a Sandoval-sized if — we’re watching the start of a healthy Kemp returning to something to the man we once knew, well… I’ll remember that when he’s causing damage in the playoffs a whole lot more than I will what the score was against Zito and the Giants on September 25.

Let the “Too Many Outfielders” Talk Begin

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Zack Greinke was wonderful last night, and Juan Uribe hit his fifth homer in eight games, and Hanley Ramirez got on base four times, and Patrick Corbin got knocked out early, and absolutely no one cares about any of that because MATT KEMP YES MATT KEMP.

Kemp had four hits in his return to the lineup, and that’s the takeaway here, because after so much frustration this year it was wonderful just to see the man in action and happy. (The marquee image above is obviously not from last night’s game, but you can see why I chose it.) I’m hoping that we’ve learned by now not to expect anything from Kemp beyond that day’s game, because by the time the regular season ends he might very well have been abducted by aliens or have contracted flesh-eating disease or something, but it was difficult to watch that and not become very hopeful for what he might provide.

After all — tongue firmly in cheek here — when Kemp has played lately, he’s been great; over his last six games (five starts), he’s hitting .579/.619/1.211 with three homers. Sure, that includes games on July 3/4/5 and 21 as well as yesterday, and makes a mockery of small sample size, but we can enjoy the fun, right?

So that being the case, we’re already starting to hear people asking the inevitable question of “what will happen with four outfielders in the playoffs?!” and the answer is simple: the Dodgers don’t have four outfielders. They haven’t all season, and they don’t right now, not with Andre Ethier still in that walking boot and Carl Crawford‘s sore back acting up. (Crawford’s only hitting .289/.329/.366 without a homer and only four steals in the second half, anyway.)

By the time the playoffs roll around, we have no idea who might be healthy or not, but if we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that these things take care of themselves. They always, always do. And if not? If all four guys are fully ready to go? Then that’s a pretty good problem to have, and suddenly having what might be the most dangerous pinch-hitter available — whomever of the three that might be, and I see “three” because we all know that Yasiel Puig is playing every day — doesn’t feel like a problem to me, nor does the idea of having a better option than Michael Young to be the DH should the Dodgers get to the World Series.

The fact that Kemp is even playing right now remains somewhat surprising to those of us who thought for certain his season was over, so let’s take what we can get. Who knows what things will look like in October, right? The focus now is A) finishing off the Diamondbacks tonight and B) keeping everyone, Kemp included, healthy. Beyond that, things will fall into place, as always.

The Return of Matt Kemp?

kemp_newyork_2013-04-23All indications are that Matt Kemp is going to be activated from the disabled list today, and if he is, he’ll most likely be in the starting lineup tonight.

I have no idea what Kemp can contribute, because the reports from his latest rehab have just been so all over the place, from the 0-for-18 with a walk performance with Rancho Cucamonga to the four homers in a simulated game to the time just ten days ago when we thought he was done for the season. It’s not realistic to say that any of us can really have expectations for him, not with how much of a disaster 2013 has been for Kemp, and not when he’s had exactly five MLB plate appearances in more than two months, all coming in that lone July 21 game in Washington when he seemingly destroyed his ankle.

That game was so long ago that the Dodger victory over the Nationals that day put them into a tie for first place with Arizona, and the Dodgers now have a 10.5 game lead over the Diamondbacks as they kick off a four game set tonight. (Technically the magic number is four, but it’s really two for the next few days, since they’re facing one another head-to-head and there’s no way to have a Dodger win without a corresponding Diamondbacks loss.)

Now Kemp is likely ready to give it another shot, and the team he returns to is a very different one than the one he left. It’s a team that’s certain to make the playoffs, but one that’s also dropped eight of its last eleven games, as Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier have all missed time due to injury, as Clayton Kershaw has been good but not his usual elite, as Paco Rodriguez looks tired, as Ricky Nolasco finally had the implosion start we probably all figured was coming, as A.J. Ellis continues to struggle, and as a team supposedly in the hunt for the best record in the National League actually started an outfield of Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker, and Chili Buss on September 15. (!)

Kemp’s (assumed) return isn’t going to change all that, though as I’ve said I’m not going to worry all that much about what guys who have no role in October like Buss or Onelki Garcia or Stephen Fife do right now. If he’s the Kemp we saw for most of the first two months before his injury, it might even drag things down further. But he just might be the healthiest regular outfielder right now, and as the Dodgers still have a pretty solid amount of buffer time before the playoffs, it’s more than worth seeing what he can do.

This team needs some health and some energy right now. I’m not sure if Kemp can provide both or even just one. I do think it’d be foolish to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago that he was in the conversation for the best player in baseball, and so there’s nothing but upside here. Bring it on, Matt. (I hope.)