Finding a (new) home for Matt Kemp, in the American League

(Via)

Matt Kemp‘s reunion with the Dodgers will be short-lived. There’s only a minuscule chance he makes it to Spring Training with the Dodgers, so let’s see if we can find him a home — in the American League.

There are a set of criteria I’ve determined need to be met for a deal to make sense. The acquiring team must have:

  • Payroll space and/or big, 1-year deals to move
  • Want to buy prospects
  • Open need for a designated hitter

Surprising to no one, there aren’t a lot of teams who would be eager to take on Kemp’s salary to be strictly a DH. There might be teams in which a deal could be constructed, though. Let’s look at some of the teams that make sense.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are no strangers to taking on veterans past their primes in hopes of striking gold. Remember, the Dodgers sent Manny Ramirez to the White Sox in a straight waiver claim back in 2010. Kemp would seem to fit that same type of mold.

The top two players on the White Sox’s depth chart at DH are Matt Davidson and Yolmer Sanchez. Davidson had an 83 wRC+ last season and played 60 games as the DH, while Sanchez is way too valuable defensively to be relegated to DH, so the need is obvious.

Michael Bertram Petriello, Esq., had an interesting thought.

Interesting, to say the least. Let’s dive a little deeper.

According to Cot’s, the White Sox only have $36.8 million committed to salaries for 2018. That’s incredibly low, even for a rebuilding team. They could afford to add Kemp and a good portion of his salary while also nabbing a decent prospect or two in return.

Here are some ChiSox players who fit the above short-term, substantial money criteria:

  • Nate Jones: $3.95 million ($1.25 million buyout for ’19)
  • James Shields: $21 million ($2 million buyout for ’19)

A trade for either Jones or Shields is a possibility if the Dodgers are willing to send prospects the other way along with Kemp, as both options would represent savings against the luxury tax number.

I was also made aware of another idea involving the White Sox on Twitter.

From the article:

“The White Sox have the financial wherewithal at the moment to be an accommodating partner for Los Angeles and Hahn and Friedman have matched up on trades in the past. Something along the lines of Diaz, Lux, Kemp, and $21 million to the White Sox for a low level minor-league player would be a beneficial trade for both teams. I’m really good at hypothetically spending Jerry Reinsdorf’s money too so I’d probably make the trade if Gavin Lux and Jordan Sheffield were even offered. It’s just money and buying prospects is something that Chicago’s American League club should be doing. Reinsdorf’s frugality is well known and the approach to a July trade consummated with the New York Yankees should give fans pause that a deal like this will come to fruition. On the Dodgers end, it’s unlikely that they’d be willing to part with a prospect the caliber of Diaz even though it lines up as a fair offer. Something along these lines would make complete sense and it’d be a changing of the guard for both organizations. While it would be fun to dissect the parameters of a completed deal, I think in the end this arrangement is more of a long shot probability that is speculative in nature.”

I wouldn’t include Yusniel Diaz, but Gavin Lux and Jordan Sheffield plus half of Kemp’s salary for a minimal return makes sense. That would cut Kemp’s luxury tax number for the Dodgers down to $10.75 million, giving the Dodgers an extra almost $11 million to play with. That could allow them to jump in on Yu Darvish or maybe explore a trade for Andrew McCutchen with no money having to go back in Pittsburgh’s direction.

Either way, it seems the Dodgers and White Sox match up well on a potential home for Kemp. He could DH their for a couple years because it’ll be at least that long before they’re in contention again. They could also get a couple of quality prospects for their trouble.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals make a good bit of sense here. As of now, they’ve lost Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas — both of whom combined to hit 63 home runs in the middle of the KC order. There’s a chance one of them could return, but it’d take quite the stagnant market (so far, it is) for both to return.

Last season, the Royals ran Brandon Moss out as their designated hitter for 401 plate appearances, and he hit .207/.279/.428 with an 84 wRC+. As poor as Kemp is now at the plate, even he did better than that. If he doesn’t have to play defense, perhaps the numbers would be a bit better. As of now, Jorge Bonifacio — yes, the Jorge Bonifacio — is listed as the Royals’ primary DH. Second in line is Moss, with the third being Cheslor Cuthbert. And with an opening at first base, I’m guessing Moss will shift there if Hosmer (or another replacement) isn’t an option.

According to Cot’s, the Royals have $108 million committed to their payroll for 2018. Included in that are the following 1-year deals:

  • Drew Butera: $2.3 million
  • Jason Hammel: $9 million ($2 million buyout for ’19)
  • Moss: $7.25 million ($1 million buyout for ’19)
  • Joakim Soria: $9 million ($1 million buyout for ’19)

Now, the Royals would love to rid themselves of the Alex Gordon and/or Ian Kennedy commitments, but Gordon is due at least $44 million through 2020 and Kennedy is due $49 million through ’20. Neither of those make a ton of sense for the Dodgers. An argument could be made for Gordon, I suppose, but it’d be more of a money-shifting situation like it was when the Dodgers acquired Kemp.

Of the four players listed above, Soria makes the most sense. But his $10 million commitment isn’t enough to offset Kemp’s $43.5 million, which means a good prospect or two would need to go KC’s way. Off the table would be Yadier Alvarez, Walker Buehler, Keibert Ruiz, Alex Verdugo and Mitchell White. I’d even hesitate to include Diaz, Jeren Kendall or Dustin May. But since there’s not as obvious a fit as there is with the White Sox, let’s put Diaz on the table. That also leaves the likes of Lux, DJ Peters, Edwin Rios, Dennis Santana, Sheffield, Will Smith and so on. Maybe Diaz and and Sheffield with Kemp for Soria and half of Kemp’s contract could work.

Hammel is an interesting one because he’s making a substantial amount, but it’s also not a ton for a guy who can give a team like KC about 180 innings of league-average production (don’t look at the ERA). They are looking to move Danny Duffy, and if they did, they might need a pitcher to take up some of the innings lost in that deal. I’m guessing they’d hold onto Hammel in this scenario.

Another way is for the Dodgers to work things out with the Royals is to also take Moss, sending maybe one from the second list of prospects above in a deal. Moss and Soria are making $16.25 million in 2018, while Kemp is making $21.5 million, so the Dodgers would save about $5 million this season and $21.5 million next offseason. It may not be enough for them to re-sign Darvish or dabble in the Lorenzo Cain market, but it would give them even more free money to use next winter. Moss and Soria for Kemp and Peters or Santana could make some sense for both parties.

Tampa Bay Rays

This one will be the most difficult to make happen, mostly because the Rays don’t have a lot of disposable income and don’t have the biggest need for a designated hitter. They are likely going to lose free agent Logan Morrison, who had a breakout 2017 season with 38 home runs and a 130 wRC+, and they did just trade the face of their franchise in Evan Longoria to the Giants, so that production will need to be made up, too.

Corey Dickerson is atop the Rays’ DH depth chart with Mallex Smith, Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza set to be their starting outfield. Dickerson started 87 games in left field for the Rays last season and played at a league-average clip, so he’s plenty capable of playing out there, opening up the DH spot for Kemp. The Rays would lose a bit on defense with Smith going to the bench, but the offensive upgrade might be worth it.

As for expensive contracts, well, the Rays don’t have a ton of those with Longoria out of the picture. Like the White Sox, the Rays don’t have a lot committed to payroll in 2018 (before arbitration). Wilson Ramos and his $8.5 million is the biggest expense for the Rays. I’m not sure they want to move their starting catcher in a deal for Kemp, so this is a situation in which the Rays would be buying prospects.

For it to be worth it for the Dodgers, the Rays would need to take at least half of Kemp’s deal. Problem is, the highest payroll the Rays have ever had is $76.8 million, back in 2014. Adding Kemp at $10.75 million a season doesn’t seem prudent for them. But if it means getting a premium prospect, perhaps they consider it. They have just $34.25 million committed to payroll, and despite having space, they wouldn’t take on the entire contract unless it netted them a guy like Buehler or Verdugo. If they could coax Alvarez (whom the Rays like) out of the Dodgers by taking on half the deal, then maybe they make an exception for Kemp. That would also mean the Dodgers giving up a premium prospect to shed about $11 million a season over the next two. At that point, is it really worth it? We shall see.

Sure, this could be expanded into a blockbuster that includes Chris Archer and other Dodger prospects, but even he’s making peanuts and wouldn’t have a significant impact on the bottom line in this deal.

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The White Sox look like the best fit, while the Royals have Soria, who should interest the Dodgers because he fills a need. The Rays are an extreme long shot in this scenario, and the odds remain overwhelmingly high that Kemp will just be designated for assignment and subsequently released when he passes through waivers unclaimed. But if the Dodgers can milk anything else out of Kemp’s second stint with the team, then they’ll explore every opportunity to do so.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.