Over the past two winters, Matt Kemp has been involved in a trade with salary reasons at the forefront. Kemp was traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Los Angeles Dodgers where the Braves took on a larger sum of money set to expire in 2018 by acquiring the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, and Brandon McCarthy. This offseason Kemp was shipped along with Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, and Kyle Farmer to the Cincinnati Reds in an effort to clear short-term money and roster space by the Dodgers taking on Homer Bailey.
Kemp’s role seemed unclear entering spring training in both seasons. The Dodgers already had depth in their outfield and even tried to flip Kemp elsewhere before the season got underway. Instead, Kemp got in top shape, forcing himself into the Dodgers lineup. Kemp’s unexpected production was much-needed as he was one of the focal points of the offense on a club that started 16-26.
In the first half, Kemp batted .310 with 15 home runs and an .874 OPS, which earned him a spot as a National League All-Star Game starter. As the Dodgers got more healthy and played better later in the season, Kemp became less of a factor.
Kemp’s role remains unclear yet again this year with spring training games getting underway this weekend. Since the Reds don’t have the luxury of a DH role for Kemp, he will battle for a spot in a crowded outfield.
Currently, Puig and Scott Schebler are frontrunners to have starting jobs, but it’s still uncertain where exactly they will play. Puig is destined to have one of the corner outfield positions, most likely right field, while Schebler has shown an ability to play all three positions. A new wrinkle in the outfield competition for first-time manager David Bell is that elite prospect Nick Senzel, who appears to be big-league ready, is joining the mix.
Senzel suffered a finger injury last summer, and odds are he would have been promoted to the majors if he was healthy. He hit .310 in Triple-A last season, and at age 23, it’s time to find a spot for him on the team’s 25-man roster. Senzel has primarily played third base in the minor leagues, however Eugenio Suarez is at the beginning of his big extension. This has forced the Reds to be creative, even though Senzel has never played in the outfield at the professional level. Bell is going to use this spring to evaluate his outfield anyway, so it makes sense to look at the player who possesses the most upside.
Other outfielders on the roster include Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Derek Dietrich. Winker, who was in the Futures Game in 2014, had a starting job prior to having his season cut short due to a right shoulder injury in 2018. He has a strong combination of hitting for power and average, and despite a small sample size, Winker recorded an impressive .405 on-base percentage last season. Ervin, a former first-round pick along with Dietrich, who is a utility player, will also be in the mix to make the team, but as bench pieces.
While Kemp has the track record in comparison to other candidates, the Reds have to find the balance of developing young talent and giving the fanbase a reason to come to the ballpark. Therefore, if Kemp produces like he did last spring training, he’ll be a consistent player.
Kemp is in the last year of his contract, and the Reds give him an opportunity similar to the one he had with the Braves. He joins a rebuilding team that gives him a chance to put up big numbers in a hitter-friendly ballpark. It’s worth remembering that Kemp was traded to the Braves from the San Diego Padres for Hector Olivera who was out of the league shortly after. A few years ago, Kemp’s career looked like it was coming to an end, and it was his contract that kept him employed. If Kemp has another impressive first half, and the Reds are willing to eat some money, he can become a trade candidate.
Obviously this trade wasn’t about Kemp, yet they’ll welcome his talents whether it’s for short-term production, or the long-term by moving him for young talent. Kemp has accomplished a lot in his career, but yet again will have to prove his value is worth the price of admission.