While there’s a million reasons to feel disdain for the Dodgers this season, there’s a couple rays of hope shining down at Dodger Stadium. One, is the return of legendary play-by-play man Vin Scully, as he announced his return for 2012 during Friday night’s broadcast. The other? A certain 26-year-old center fielder from the outskirts of Oklahoma City.
Matt Kemp is in the best season of his career, making a serious run at the NL Triple-Crown, and serving as one of the lone bright spots in the Dodgers’ catastrophic season on and off the diamond. Through Saturday’s game, Kemp leads the league in six statistical categories, and is in the top four in an astounding 19 more categories. He’s become one of the game’s best players, leading the league by a wide margin in Wins-Above-Replacement, or WAR.
Kemp has finally become the player that everyone thought he would evolve into. He showed glimmers of hope as a rookie, had a breakout year in 2009, but has truly come into his own here in 2011, becoming the second Dodger to join the 30/30 Club after a very disappointing 2010 campaign.
So what’s there to worry about from the Dodgers perspective? Kemp’s only under Dodger control until the end of 2012, meaning that if the Mayans are wrong, it would seem likely that Kemp could be one of the most sought out free agents entering his prime, since Alex Rodriguez became a free agent after the 2000 season. Should he hit the open market, he could easily face to face with $200 million contract, something the Dodgers aren’t exactly budgeted for.
So who could afford him? You immediately have to include the Red Sox, as the only long-term outfielder they have under contract is Carl Crawford, who is signed through 2043. Jacoby Ellsbury has two more years of arbitration, and would become a free agent in 2014, but that wouldn’t stop John Henry and Theo Epstein from teaming up to get Kemp.
Also, you have to strongly consider the rival Giants. Aaron Rowand comes off the books after next season, and the Giants have been looking for a bat ever since Barry Bonds weaned off of the clear. Keep in mind that their payroll is very similar to the Dodgers, as with the exception of Barry Zito, not a single player is locked up with a long term deal. This of course means there’s got to be money for Tim Lincecum, who still has three years of arbitration. Whether or not they intend to keep pitcher Matt Cain(free agent after 2012), or use his allocated money towards a bat, could be a telling sign in how they would potentially inquire about Matt Kemp. Plus, there’s plenty of incentive in acquiring Kemp, as an image like the one to the left, would absolutely devastate the city of Los Angeles.
Next, look at the Phillies, Yankees and Mets. While the Phillies have Victorino, Brown and Pence, the Flyin’ Hawaiian comes off of the books after the 2012 season, and Pence has shown he’s more than capable of playing right field. The Phillies and Red Sox have combined to land every top-notch free agent the last couple of off-seasons, and at some point, the Phils need to start addressing their bats. Kemp would be a good starting point.
The Yankees could be the most intriguing player, as they completely lack an outfield of the future. They loads of money locked up in Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira, not to mention that Robinson Cano needs a new deal, but Kemp would surely be an upgrade from Gardner, Granderson and Swisher.
Across the East River, the Mets need someone to throw a couple hundred million dollars at, considering that Carlos Beltran was traded last month. Could Fred Wilpon make Kemp that guy? Perhaps, but like the Dodgers, they’re in a world of hurt financially, leaving any long-term investment up in the air.
That leads us back to the Dodgers, a franchise desperately in need of a positive identity. They say a strong team is built with solid core up the middle, and with the dominance of Kershaw, and the bright young star of Dee Gordon, the Dodgers have potential in that realm, but only with Kemp in center. Andre Ethier has already grumbled about his time in Los Angeles, and James Loney is making a case to be non-tendered, much like Russell Martin a year ago. The Dodgers’ window that seemed wide open during two straight trips to the NLCS, has closed with the poor play of Loney, Broxton and Martin.
So it begs the questions: should the Dodgers go all out and lock up what could be the most talent batter in their Los Angeles history? Or has the closing of the window lessened the need for Kemp, considering the club’s poor play?
All I know, is that there’s only one player that makes the Dodgers a better team on a daily basis. His name is Matt Kemp, and only the Dodgers front office has the ability to make these pictures nothing but plausible fiction.
NOTE: All Photoshop images created by Michael Castillo (www.lasportshub.com)