Padres Trade for Matt Kemp – Analysis

December 11, 2014 is going to go down as one of the most memorable days in Padre history.

Bucking a trend that has gone on for a number of years, they acquired a big-name, high-priced impact player in Matt Kemp.

Any Padre fan knows that this is huge. Just four-to-five years ago, they traded away two of the best ball players in their history in Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy. This was very disheartening to fans, and it communicated the message that then-owner John Moores was not at all interested in winning.

And last offseason, when fans were pining for a big bat to add some much-needed offense, the best that then-GM Josh Byrnes could come up with was Seth Smith–not a bad player to be sure, but certainly not the impact bat that many were hoping for.

All of that has now changed. With the addition of Kemp, the Padres have added a marquee player via a rare trade with their intra-division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Why It’s a Good Deal

On the whole, this is a very good trade for the Padres. They have received a solid hitter who as recently as 2011 finished second in the NL MVP vote (and for those who don’t remember, it was a close, controversial vote–many believed he should have won it). After missing large chunks of playing time in 2012-13, Kemp rebounded nicely in 2014, slashing .287/.346/.506 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI (and an eye-popping .971 OPS in the second half).

Kemp is also 30 years old, and is locked into a contract for the next five years at $107 million. But on that, the news is still good for the Padres: as part of the deal, the Dodgers agreed to contribute $32 million to help pay for Kemp’s large contract.

Lastly, it’s a good deal because of what Padres GM A.J. Preller didn’t have to give up: he didn’t have to trade away his best bargaining chips in one of his three solid starting pitchers Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, or Ian Kennedy.

He also gave away just one established major leaguer in Yasmani Grandal, whose Padre tenure was colored by a 50-game PED suspension and a serious knee injury in July 2013. Grandal batted just .225 last year, though that seems to be in part due to his earlier-than-expected return from his injury.

San Diego also gave up 25-year-old Joe Wieland, who had missed nearly two years of baseball due to Tommy John surgery. Wieland figured to compete with three or four others for one of two starting spots in 2015, so his loss is not immediately felt.

They also gave up prospect Zach Eflin, whom the Dodgers apparently want to send to Philadelphia to complete their trade for Jimmy Rollins.

An additional plus: adding Kemp to their outfield takes some of the pressure off of minor league youngsters Rymer Liriano (who struggled mightily in a late season call-up) and Hunter Renfroe. There is not as much of a rush now for them to hurry up and get to the big leagues; both can take their time to hone their skills a little more at AAA.

So to sum up: the Padres got All-Star slugger Matt Kemp for a talented but injury-prone hitter and two minor league pitchers who have yet to establish themselves at the big league level.

A final note: if the tweets are to be believed, the Dodgers wanted top prospect Matt Wisler to be included in the deal, but Preller said no. Kudos to him for that.

Some Legitimate Concerns

You’ll notice I said in the opening sentence that today will be remembered as “one of the most memorable days in Padre history.” Not the greatest…at least not yet. For now, just the most memorable. That’s because it takes a few years to determine whether or not a trade was worth it. This one will be no exception.

There are at least three reasons for concern.

First is Kemp’s health. Sure, he played in 150 games last year. But in 2012-13, he missed over 170 games, when he was aged 27-28 (he turned 30 in September). Suffice to say, if Kemp’s ’14 season had likewise been injury-plagued, there would have been no way the Padres would have been interested in him. So Kemp’s health is a cause for concern. This is why manager Bud Black will routinely have to give him a day off.

Second is Kemp’s defense. Just three years ago, he was a Gold Glove center fielder. But in the last few years, his range has slipped somewhat, which means he is now best suited as a corner outfielder. He’ll never be the Gold Glover he once was, but surely his bat will more than make up for that.

Third is Grandal. Despite his problems, I like him. He’s young (26), a catcher, has a great batting eye, and is controllable for four more years. Yes, he’s only one player, but given these dynamics, that’s a lot to for a small market team like the Padres to give up.

He also has great hitting ability, despite his lackluster .225 average in ’14. Scouts believe that his ’13 injury affected his play last year, and Dennis Lin recently wrote in the Union-Tribune that of all the players in baseball, Grandal is among the most poised to have a breakout season in 2015. So losing him is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if he continues to develop as a hitter.

All In All…

In spite of all this, trading for Matt Kemp was the right thing to do. It sends the right signal to fans at the right time:

It screams, “We want to win!”

Yes, he’s a lot of money, but again, the big-buck Dodgers will be paying nearly 30% of his salary.

Yes, they surrendered the talented Grandal, and yes, I would have preferred that they have given up Rene Rivera or top prospect Austin Hedges. But someone of Kemp’s stature is always going to come at a price. And to repeat, he was the only established major leaguer the Padres had to give up.

Yes, injuries are a concern. But that’s why Kemp will get rested more, and he’ll see some games at DH when they’re in an AL ballpark.

Yes, his defense is a concern. But the Padres knew that; they’re not getting him for his glove, but for his bat.

And yes, Matt Kemp by himself cannot save the Padres. But no one has ever said that he could! Indeed, Preller was always clear about his plans to add at least one more big bat–hopefully a proven first or third baseman.

So yes, December 11, 2014 will be a day that’s remembered for a long time in Padre-land. But five years from now, will it be remembered fondly, or with disgust? Only time will tell; that’s how trades are.

But I believe it’s going to be remembered as one of the best days in Padre history, for the reasons mentioned above.

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