01 December 2014

Are the Orioles a Fit for Matt Kemp?

This post was written by Ryan Romano. Follow him on Twitter.

The 2014 Orioles’ outfield, expected before the year to drag the team down from possible contention, instead elevated them to the playoffs. With Adam Jones staying strong in center, Nick Markakis bouncing back in right, and Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz breaking out in left, the outfield accrued 20.2 WAR — more than any other team in baseball.

2015 might diverge from this, however, as Markakis and Cruz are free agents. The team wants to re-sign both, and it can, but nothing is assured at this point. At the same time, a third name has entered the mix: Matt Kemp, whom the Orioles could apparently acquire in a trade. Let’s look at him from a few angles and determine if the Orioles should or shouldn’t make the move.

How will he do?

2011 Matt Kemp was nothing short of a god. He slashed .324/.399/.586, in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the world. The resultant 168 wRC+, coupled with 6.0 runs on the basepaths, put his offensive output at 60.2 runs. Overall, he accumulated 8.4 WAR, a number that led the National League by a wide margin.

Of course, it’s not 2011 anymore. Since that magical campaign, Kemp has struggled with various ailments, along with the natural processes of aging. He can still hit well — he posted a formidable 140 wRC+ this year — but that can barely compensate for his shortcomings in the field (he cost the Dodgers 26.5 runs, the most in the majors).

Going forward, he’ll probably play at something like a league-average level. Steamer projects 17.1 runs of offense and -14.2 runs of defense in 555 trips to the dish, good enough for 2.1 WAR. The Orioles could definitely use those numbers, even if they come from a 30-year-old.

How does he compare to the Orioles’ other options?

Kemp won’t put up MVP-type stats in the future, but neither will Baltimore’s other outfielders. Cruz and Markakis predicated their 2014 seasons on unrealistic offense and defense, respectively. Thus, Steamer thinks they’ll regress significantly in 2015, to WARs of 1.5 and 1.1, respectively. Kemp also has an advantage on them with regards to age: Markakis had his 31st birthday a few weeks ago, and Cruz will turn 35 next July.

The in-house alternatives don’t have much potential either. David Lough can’t sustain his unbelievable 2014 defense; according to Steamer, he’ll only give the team 1.1 wins in an estimated 379 plate appearances. Alejandro De Aza has a similarly pessimistic projection, at 1.6 WAR in 500 plate appearances. Compared to these guys, Kemp seems like a good choice, except for one thing.

What will he cost?

Here, we arrive at the major drawbacks of a Kemp trade. Following the aforementioned awesome 2011 season, Kemp signed an eight-year extension with the Dodgers. It’ll pay him $21 million next year, and $21.5 million in each of the four years after that. With a win’s value at ~$6 million on the free agent market, that’s far too much to pay for a two-win player on the wrong side of 30. Los Angeles will likely offer to cover some of the cost, but they probably won’t contribute enough to make it a good deal for Baltimore.

And of course, there’s the issue of the talent headed the other way. Because their fifth starter from 2014 won’t return in 2015, the Dodgers need another pitcher if they wish to contend, and the Orioles don’t have many of those. If an ostensible “star” such as Kemp necessitates a top prospect (e.g., Dylan Bundy or Hunter Harvey), the Orioles would almost certainly regret it. Together with the money attached to him, this makes Kemp appear a lot less tantalizing.

In the end, the Orioles really don’t need this trade. They should just attempt to bring back Markakis and/or Cruz; even if they don’t succeed, they’ll still have a solid group of outfielders for 2015. This team already has one albatross on the roster — it doesn’t need another.

Photo via Keith Allison


Statistics Don't Lie said...

Ignoring the downside risk of Kemp's contract over 5 years --- if the Dodgers are looking for a #5 starter, than why wouldn't Jimenez work for them?

What amount of $$ would the Dodgers be likley to send to the Orioles if it was Jimenez for Kemp? What would the effective annual salary for Kemp be to the Orioles?

Phil said...

This post overstates Kemp's offensive decline, which was primarily the abbreviated 2013 and beginning of 2014. He was very good in 2012 (wRC+ of 145) and just about the better hitter in baseball from June on last season. I have far more faith in him than in Cruz repeating that performance, and their defense projects equally bad. Kemp is also five years younger. Considering the Dodgers including cash, if the O's are going to spend ~$15-16MM on a corner OF, let it be Kemp and not Cruz.

That's in a vacuum though. If we cannot manage to make the trade without giving up a top prospect or young talent, then I would agree that bringing Cruz back is a better option.

Stuart Rheingold said...

I think the Orioles should focus more on defensive talent. Look at how the Royals beat them in the playoffs. Pitching and defense is what wins. There is still enough offense without a Matt Kemp in the lineup. Davis should bounce back and Cruz probably can't match his output of last year. The focus should be on an outfielder that can get on base, steal bases, and be good defensively.

Michael Wallace said...

Well, Cruz just signed a 4 year/$58 million (supposedly) offer with Seattle. Can't blame him for taking 4 years, and can't blame the O's for not giving it to him. I wish he could of stayed, and I'll always love him for his one year in Baltimore. Birdland will always have a soft spot for CRUUUUUUZ! That being said, I'm wondering what the Orioles do now. We'll see what happens. The Winter Meetings could be interesting.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

If you think the Dodgers would take Ubaldo Jimenez, and you also believe in Matt Kemp's offensive abilities and that he'll be able to stay on the field, then it's understandable that you'd be fine with a trade for Kemp. But who knows what the O's would actually have to give up or how much the Dodgers would be willing to offer financially.

With Cruz now on his way to the Mariners, it makes even more sense to explore all options. Signing Cruz for four years is certainly a risk, but trading for Kemp would present a large gamble as well.

Michael Wienholt said...

I agree with "Statistics Don't Lie" and with Stuart Reingold ("Pitching and defense is what wins.").

Jimenez is a fit for the LA fan demographic.

Cruz is too old for that kind of $$$.

Sign Markakis and trade for Kemp.

Anonymous said...

I think the O's should try and trade for cargo. 3yrs left on his deal 17mil/ yr.. the rockies want salarry relief and starting pitching.. give them Chen or Norris.. see if they'd be interested in ubaldo (although I doubt it without the O's kicking in cash

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything said about Cruz and his future offensive production declining. There is something, however, that statistics will never be able to measure... his energy. Cruz made everyone around him better with the passion that he competes with. If there was a statistic for "shared energy", Cruz would be at the top. I wish him well in Seattle. Now, the question is... Who will replace the leadership and energy that he provided the O's with in 2014?