Matt Kemp’s return to Petco Park this week allows memories of his awkward exit from the San Diego Padres to resurface once again.
Scattered boos greeted Matt Kemp upon his return to San Diego Tuesday night. The outfielder had been one of the heralded additions to the Padres in late 2014 as General Manager A.J. Preller attempted to short circuit a trip to the playoffs.
In his rush to build a contender, Preller failed to recognize the baggage and declining defensive skills that Kemp would bring. Worse though, he actually helped the wealthy division rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
If Preller had even checked out the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of the Dodgers now and again, he would have discovered that the team desperately needed to get out from under Kemp’s contract and free up space in the outfield. The Padres even gave the Dodgers an additional gift: a young, controllable catcher known for his pitch-framing ability, Yasmani Grandal. Grandal has become the Dodgers’ primary catcher.
Drafted by the Dodgers in 2003, Kemp had signed a $160 million, eight-year contract in 2012. However various injuries, an attitude problem and a glut of outfielders including Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, Scott Van Slyke and Yasiel Puig, made him expendable.
“In the span of three years, Kemp had gone from a player who was baseball’s best and would be a Dodger forever to one whose club was paying eight figures to an intra-state, intra-divisional rival to take him off its hands,” Ben Reiter commented in May of 2015 in Sports Illustrated.
Just a year and a half later, the Padres traded Kemp to the Atlanta Braves. And he took a shot on his way out the door, saying he had “never really played in a baseball town before. I’m excited about that.” Kemp also admitted in The Players Tribune, that he had “gained a reputation for being selfish, lazy and a bad teammate.” He went on to say that he didn’t necessarily agree but that those days were over.
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In Kemp, the Atlanta Braves received a big-name player to showcase this season as the team opens their new stadium, SunTrust Park. The Padres, however, received Hector Olivera, a Cuban outfielder, laden with a $28.5 million contract and a suspension for domestic violence. Olivera was immediately designated for assignment. This year the Padres will pay a whopping $37 million to players no longer on the roster, including $8.5 million to Kemp and $2.5 to Olivera.
During his time with the Padres, Kemp had respectable offensive stats, .264/.301/.462 with a .763 OPS. However, he hurt the team’s defense in right field (-.24.1 Defensive WAR in 2015). While not a clubhouse cancer, Kemp did not provide the veteran leadership that should have been expected.
As Padres’ fans await the arrival of the waves of talent from the farm system promised by the organization, the Kemp saga should provide a cautionary tale on A.J. Preller’s judgment in trading for veteran players. Kemp’s history of injuries, deteriorating defense skills, and questionable attitude should have provided ample warning signs.