When the San Diego Padres acquired Matt Kemp from the hated rivals up north I was immediately displeased with the deal. Living in San Diego, there is a natural hatred for all things Dodgers. Kemp was the face of the Dodger franchise for years and years, but now he was a Padre.
As the months have gone by the tolerance for him has increased and seeing him hit these past few months have calmed any fear that he was completely washed up. The first cycle in Padres history has probably cemented him as a Padre for the rest of his current contract. Though anything seems possible with A.J. Preller and the new management team leading the way. They have already proved they are capable of going in any direction.
Still it is hard to see the team moving on from him unless they can replace him with a superstar of his quality. Justin Upton could be that man, if the team can scrounge up enough money to keep the slugging outfielder. Trading Kemp and transferring that money towards Upton is just about the only way the team can keep Justin Upton. Having both outfielders on the team for the next 4-6 years just does not make sense from a baseball standpoint. Paying them both in excess of $20 million a year would not be a smart move for this franchise if they want to move forward.
Now lets discuss Matt Kemp and his lack of hustle. I understand that sometimes fans can be over critical of a professional athlete. Playing 162 games a season is a big deal. The game of baseball is an absolute grind, a marathon. To analyze a player on every play can be quite unfair. However, the play Sunday, in which Nick Vincent sailed a throw over Wil Myers head at first base exemplifies the season and the effort from the Padres in 2015.
Errors happen. It is part of the game. That throw was horrible and at an absolute inopportune time, but plays like that happen during a season. The lack of hustle in backing up the play is inexcusable and efforts like that have to end. Matt Kemp never started running after the ball until it got by second baseman Alexi Amarista. That is absolutely ridiculous and shows the carelessness in which he plays the field from time to time. There is no excuse for lack of hustle. There is absolutely no way to justify it. Another example is Kemp getting picked off of first base with Justin Upton at bat. It was a close play but if he simply dove back into the bag, he would have been safe. That play clearly upset Upton, and Padres fans were left shaking their heads.
Matt Kemp defensively is an absolute travesty. He won two gold gloves in 2009 (-0.1) and 2011 (-0.2) despite having a negative defense WAR rating both seasons. In fact Matt Kemp has only once had a season in which he earned a positive defensive WAR rating. In 2008, as a 23-year-old outfielder Kemp finished the season with a 0.8 defensive WAR rating. In his 10 seasons at the Major League level Kemp has earned a total defensive WAR rating of -10.6. In other words an average defender in replace of Kemp would have earned their teams 10 more wins in his career. Kemp is a below average defender, and as he now enters his 30’s, the numbers are only going to get worse.
Kemp has a rifle arm and makes some fantastic defensive plays, but at the same time, he takes horrible angles to the ball and slows up and dives on balls in which he doesn’t have to. Nothing irks me more than when a player just goes through the motions and puts in minimal effort. From time to time, quite simply, Kemp gives exactly that effort. Minimal.
The latest drop on the warning track of the game on Labor Day against the Rockies further proves my point that he cannot be trusted on defense moving forward. The team must either move him to first base or explore other option on the field. He is only going to lose more and more range as he gets older. You don’t want to risk him injuring himself on the field either. You must protect the aging veteran, with that hefty contract.
As a hitter and passionate club house leader, I absolutely love the man. He has proven that he is in fact a middle of the order hitter that teams have to pitch carefully to. He has shown great heart and has done well in loosening up his teammates in the locker room. The Padres struggles this season DO NOT fall on Matt Kemp. He has not been a major issue what so ever. It has been a mixture of things that have turned this team into an average franchise. Kemp’s defense has been troublesome but the team has far bigger fish to fry.
As a Major League ball player there are always things that you can work on. There is always going to be a way to improve yourself as a player. In my estimation hustle is a way Kemp can improve himself and show the fans of the Padres exactly what kind of player he is. Doing the absolute little things like backing up a play or hustling out a double play grounder can easily be the difference in winning or losing a game. If you play the game the correct way, good thing happen to you and your team. Matt Kemp is a superstar, an absolute baseball god. With all the ability in the world, show the next generation of players and kids how to play the game the correct way. Something that is easier said than done from this current generation of ball players.