Remembering Why The Matt Kemp Trade Made Sense

The Padres didn’t “win” the Matt Kemp trade when Kemp drove in three runs in Los Angeles on Opening Day. The Dodgers didn’t “win” the trade when Yasmani Grandal had his near-historic day in Milwaukee yesterday. We’re not going to know the true outcome for years; it’s more than possible that neither side wins, in that both could be very pleased with the move they made.

But I’m hoping, at least, that the respective performances of Kemp and Grandal have fans understanding the deal a little better. Yeah, Grandal is just crushing Kemp in 2015 production all around right now, and none of this even includes framing…

Name PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Def WAR
Grandal 87 4 16.1% 19.5% .233 .346 .301 .414 .534 .413 168 0.6 1
 Kemp 125 1 4.0% 19.2% .128 .355 .291 .328 .419 .326 112 -8.2 -0.2

…but that wasn’t really the point. This was never a trade about merely thinking that Grandal would be a better player than Kemp.

It was about moving an outfielder from a team that had far too many outfielders and had Joc Pederson coming. It was about offloading $75 million worth of a nearly-31-year-old guy whose arthritic hips nearly blew up the deal entirely. It was about improving outfield defense. It was about adding a catcher (one I’d painted as a breakout candidate weeks earlier) to a team that just saw historically poor production from the position and had an aging A.J. Ellis. It was about adding pitching depth in Joe Wieland. It was about getting a prospect (Zach Eflin) to flip for Jimmy Rollins. It was about improving the clubhouse, and while I don’t think Kemp was a problem in the same way that others have been, there were more than a few whispers about the place being happier without him.

I mean, I said all of this at the time. I completely understood that Kemp had a ton of fans and that it was easy for emotion to overcome logic, and it’s easy to say that I remember how crushed I was when I was 16 and Mike Piazza was traded away in 1998. I understood that people may not have liked it, I just wanted to make the point that it wasn’t just “Kemp for a .225-hitting, PED-busted catcher who San Diego pitchers didn’t want to throw to,” as it was often painted by hurt fans.

I don’t hear that a lot these days. I’m not even sure that Grandal will be a better hitter than Kemp for the remainder of 2015 (the projections give a slight edge to Kemp, and while there’s a huge gap in those lines above, remember that it’s still so early that Grandal’s big day boosted his wRC+ by 40 points in an afternoon.) But I do know that Grandal is a much, much better fit for the 2015 Dodgers than Kemp would have been, particularly with the performances of Pederson and Alex Guerrero along with the shocking rebirth of Andre Ethier, and I know that 2015 was the riskiest year of the deal. No matter how much you like Kemp, you can’t expect that he’s improving at this point of his career, and there’s definitely some decline coming.

It’s still weird to see Kemp in navy blue and tan. It probably always will be, and nothing that’s happened so far has proven that the trade has been “won” or “lost.” Hopefully, though, the first month of the season has led to greater understanding. Something you hate can still make a lot of sense. I don’t imagine many Dodger fans would undo that trade if they had the chance.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.