Is Matt Kemp the Next Vernon Wells?


With any move a team will make there will always be naysayers. The same is true for the Padres’ acquisition of Matt Kemp. While Bill Plaschke of the LA Times called it nuts on the Dodgers end and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the Padres are “getting a steal”, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs thinks it could be the next Veron Wells deal.

A quick refresher on the Wells trade, Vernon Wells was owed $89 million over the next 4 seasons and was shipped to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Now fast forward to 2014 Matt Kemp, owed $107 million over the next 5 seasons was sent to San Diego alongside Tim Federowicz for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin with LA covering $32 million of Kemps’s salary. In principal the similarities are there. A team is unloading a large financial commitment to a big name outfielder for some players whose value isn’t extremely high.

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Aside from the deal itself, the centerpieces of the trade are very similar as well. They were both woeful defenders whose value came from the fact they were all around great hitters with the ability to hit for power and get on base at a high rate and were also on the wrong side of 30. For Kemp’s career he’s hit .292/.349/.495 while averaging 20 homers a year. Wells had hit .280/.329/.475 while averaging 19 home runs per season at the time of the trade. The deal didn’t work out so well for the Angels. Wells hit .222/.258/.409 in 2 seasons playing in just 208 games.

So does that mean Kemp is destined for a similar fate? It’s not impossible, but there’s reasons to hold out hope. One notable difference between the 2 players is that Kemp is 2 years younger than Wells was when he was traded. Kemp will decline over the course of the contract, but it isn’t likely to be this year or even next when we’ll see a huge drop off occur. Also a lot of the negative value produced by Kemp’s defense stems from him playing center field. If moved to a corner, preferably left, the Padres can hide away a lot of his short comings on the defensive side.

Overall we should expect Matt Kemp to be far more valuable to the Padres than Vernon Wells was to the Angels, but that isn’t the crux of Cameron’s argument. The main argument is that the Padres simply aren’t good enough to the point where adding Matt Kemp even matters. Before adding Kemp, Fangraphs projected that the Padres will win 75 games based on how they’re roster is currently constituted. Add Matt Kemp into the fold and there’s some improvement, but what’s around him? Seth Smith might be able to replicate his stellar 2014 campaign, but he also might regress back to his old form where he was nothing more than a platoon player who was hardly worth more than a replacement level player.

Same can be said for Rene Rivera, whose now the primary catcher without Yasmani Grandal here anymore. Then there’s the mess of the infield with an unproven Jedd Gyorko alongside a mix of Yangervis Solarte Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes on the left side and Yonder Alonso manning first base. Together that crew was worth 3.5 wins as a whole in 2014. As a point of reference that’s equal to what Trevor Plouffe was worth.

That all looks pretty bad if the Padres went into Opening Day with a lineup like that, but that’s a big if. If you asked A.J. Preller if he was done building this team I’d suspect you’d get a resounding no. Even with the Winter Meetings behind us there’s still ample opportunities for this team to improve. With Brandon Moss now in Cleveland, Carlos Santana may be available, with Cincinnati and Atlanta willing to deal off everyone, Jay Bruce and Justin Upton could be options to turn to and I’m sure there’s other avenues to be explored that haven’t been floated out by the media.

The only issue with this is, it could cost some of the Padres’ starting pitching, a big part of what makes them a viable contender which Cameron points out. Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy and Jesse Hahn all could be on the move if the Padres do opt to improve their lineup via the trade market. While they may be the best options for the rotation they’re far from the only ones. Robbie Erlin and Odrisamer Despaigne both performed well when they pitched last season and Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke might be able to finally get healthy and contribute. Top prospect Matt Wisler might not be too far off as well. Regardless of who goes, there’s a lot of options the Padres can choose from to replace them.

All in all, while today the Padres aren’t likely to contend for a World Series, they are a lot closer then they were before the Winter Meetings began. So while Dave Cameron believes there’s no chance the Padres can be any better than a .500 team, there’s a lot of avenues for the Padres to take to make their offense viable and allow them to contend.