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Monday, June 18, 2018

MLB Hot Stove Analysis: Matt Kemp’s Eight-Year $160 Million Extension

The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to terms with MVP candidate Matt Kemp on a eight-year $160 million extension. For a franchise that has been high on drama and low on good news lately, this deal will keep the team’s best position player in a Dodger uniform through his prime, without getting too deep into his late-30s.

While it is easy to get caught up in the years and dollars attached to the contract, I would first remind fans that this was an extension of a player under team control for one more season, not a free agent. As such, Kemp likely would have earned at least $15 million in arbitration this season, making the hypothetical free agent contract a more manageable seven years and $145 million. When one considers what Carl Crawford (7/$142 million), Jayson Werth (7/$126 million) and Matt Holliday (7/$120 million) received as older, free agent outfielders who play corner positions, this deal looks that much better.

As far as what Kemp will do over the life of the contract, it would be unrealistic to expect performance on par with his MVP-caliber 2011 campaign, especially considering Kemp’s troubles with motivation and consistency as recently as 2010. Having said that, Kemp is a career .294/.350/.496 hitter entering his prime, so he could put up some big offensive numbers, somewhere between what he did last season and 2009, as long as he remains healthy and motivated. This seems like a decent bet, given his athleticism and his relationship with manager Don Mattingly. However, it would not be shocking if Kemp had a few bad offensive seasons, like he did in 2010, when he became too pull-conscious and got out of whack in his approach and mechanically at the plate. When Kemp is at his best, he does a great job of letting the ball travel deep into the zone and driving the ball with authority up the middle and to the opposite field.

The other issue is that Kemp can be inconsistent defensively in center field and will likely move to right field later in the contract as his speed goes or if he begins to suffer injuries. While his speed is currently above-average or better and his arm strength is well above-average, his instincts and feel for the position get him into trouble. Luckily, Dodger Stadium is a relatively small outfield to cover, but in an ideal world, it would be good to flank Kemp with at least one plus defender in the outfield, something Andre Ethier is not, despite his Gold Glove.

This is a great signing for the Dodgers, taking a bet on a talented, up-the-middle player, who can help the team win in a lot of ways, but like all bets, it comes with some risk due to his past inconsistency and the length of the contract.

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