GLENDALE, Ariz – Matt Kemp looks at ease.
Noticeably thinner — down 41 pounds from 2017 — with an afro his hat has trouble containing. The 33-year-old is back in Los Angeles Dodgers blue for the first time since 2014 after short stints with the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves.
During batting practice Friday morning at Camelback Ranch, Kemp appears to be right at home. He introduces himself to a young boy decked out in Dodgers gear watching batting practice from just behind the cage.
“What’s your name, little man?” Kemp asks. He shakes his hand, says he likes the boy’s shoes and returns to his hitting group of Dodgers outfielders Joc Pederson and Andrew Toles. In the cage, he looks like the player that made him a fan favorite for nearly a decade. Like the Matt Kemp who finished second behind Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun for the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award.
The ball jumps off his bat. He must have poked a dozen or so balls over the left field fence, causing a frenzy in the parking lot for the eager ballhawk-fans.
All the while, in between rounds, he’s chatty. He’s loose. He’s happy.
But do the Los Angeles baseball bosses share those feelings?
According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, a few Dodgers people “can hardly believe they haven’t been able to unload Matt Kemp yet. They will be even more stunned if they can’t do it by the start of the season.”
After a mid-December trade with Atlanta brought Kemp back to Los Angeles in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson, he doesn’t appear to be a part of general manager Farhan Zaidi’s plans.
Heyman notes that Kemp was only brought back to LA because of his contract which allowed the Dodgers to get below the luxury-tax mark, not because Zaidi actually wanted him.
Kemp slashed .276/.318/.463 with 19 home runs and 64 RBIs in 115 games last season for the Braves. Still a serviceable big-league stat line, the Dodgers’ hands are tied.
If they keep him, it’s expected he’ll compete for the starting job in left field. He would join Pederson, Toles, Enrique Hernandez, and Trayce Thompson as other candidates vying for the spot.
If they have no desire to keep him, which appears to be the case, trading him seems to be the most viable option. The problem with that? Not many teams would be willing to take on the final two years of his contract for the $43 million he is owed. The market for sluggers has also taken a beating this winter, as you may know.
It’s really unclear to know what the Dodgers’ plans are with the slugger. Is there a legit chance he’ll be a part of the team’s home opener March 29 against the San Francisco Giants? Will Zaidi try and move him and settle with a complete salary dump if he finds a potential match? Does Kemp mean it when he says he’s thrilled to be back, despite the belief around camp that he won’t be there come April?
Who even knows at this point?
While many questions remain unanswered, at least we can rely on the fact that Matt Kemp reported to spring camp in The Best Shape of His Life.
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