More so than any other trade in the 2014-2015 MLB offseason, the acquisition of Matt Kemp by the San Diego Padres was met with confusion on one end of the spectrum and downright ridicule on the other. Even worse than acquiring a player nearing the back half of his career with over $80 million remaining on his contract, the Padres also gave up a potential superstar catcher with strong power at the plate and one of the best gloves behind the plate in all of baseball. Many around the league questioned new Padres general manager AJ Preller’s sanity following this deal and the first half of the season only furthered these concerns.
Over the first half of the season, Kemp struggled immensely hitting only eight home runs with a slash line of .250/.291/.382 and a wRC+ of 87. Beyond that, Kemp once again showed how much of a liability he was in right field with poor showing after poor showing on defense. It seemed that many of the pundits and critics were right when they blasted the Padres and AJ Preller for making such a dumbfounding move.
Despite the abysmal start to the season for Kemp, he has really experienced a resurgence in the second half of the year. Since the All-Star break Kemp has hit thirteen homers with a slash line of .299/.356/.547 and a wRC+ of 148. These numbers are much closer to what the Padres expected out of Kemp and he is quietly having one of the best second halves of any player in all of baseball.
It is hard to say whether Kemp is experiencing a career resurgence in the second half of this season given his history as a good second half hitter. In four of the last five years, Kemp has had much better second halves to his seasons than first halves. While there was some significant injuries in past years that hindered his overall performance, that was not the case this season. It remains to be seen whether Kemp can get off to a hot start in 2016 and not wait until July to be the player that we all know he is capable of being.
While Matt Kemp may have his offensive stroke of years past back, the biggest issue going forward for the Padres with regards to Kemp is the fact that he is a huge defensive liability in right field. Despite a resurgent second half at the plate, Kemp is still only on pace for only 0.6-0.7 WAR for the season because of his awful performance on defense. His UZR is over -16, making him one of the worst defensive outfielders in all of baseball according to Fangraphs defensive value calculations.
Going forward in his Padre career, it seems most logical that in order to squeeze the most value out of Kemp, the Padres are going to need to move him to a position that will minimize his defensive liability and maximize his offensive potential. While it may not be the most desirable option for either the Padres or Kemp, it makes the most sense to transition him to first base instead of Wil Myers and allow Myers to his more natural position of right field while Kemp does less overall defensive damage at first base. Going forward Kemp wont be a player worth over $20 million a season, which is what his current contract pays him, but with a move to 1st base and continual improvement in his approach at the plate, Kemp can still be an above average player that provides a decent threat in the middle of the Padres lineup.