Matt Kemp-Red Sox Trade Wouldn’t Benefit Boston Despite Offensive Woes

Matt KempThe Boston Red Sox would be wise to look the other way when it comes to Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.

Kemp looks like a sexy solution to the Red Sox’s offensive woes — particularly as they pertain to the outfield — because he was an elite talent before battling various injuries. There’s nothing overly sexy about Kemp right now, though, and it would be ill-advised to relinquish assets and make a significant contractual commitment for a player whose overall impact could prove minimal.

WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports there’s “nothing going on” between the Red Sox and Dodgers in regards to Kemp. This conflicts with a report from The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, who noted Sunday that Boston spent “significant time” last week scouting the outfielder. Either way, any talk of the Red Sox landing Kemp centers on speculation at this point, especially since Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told Cafardo he doesn’t intend to trade the two-time All-Star.

Kemp was the National League MVP runner-up in 2011. He was an awesome blend of power and speed, a five-tool center fielder, someone capable of carrying a lineup, yada, yada, yada. Flash forward three years, and Kemp, while still a viable major league hitter, is less explosive, more expensive and, in general, just not as good. Even Kemp himself has admitted he’s not the same player, particularly defensively.

“I just need to play better defense,” Kemp said last month, according to ESPN.com. “I’ve been bobbling balls, not getting as good a jump as I need to. … My legs are getting stronger and stronger, but I did come off microfracture surgery. I wish I was as explosive as before.

“I’m not hurt or anything, but you have those good days and bad days. I wish I could steal 100 million bases like I used to, but I don’t feel it.”

The eyeball test suggests Kemp is a defensive liability. The metrics support the observation.

Kemp’s Defensive Wins Above Replacement (Def. WAR) this season, according to FanGraphs, is minus-14.2. His minus-13.6 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) — a defensive metric that estimates a fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year — ranks second-to-last among all major league outfielders, behind Torii Hunter’s minus-14. For context, a minus-15 UZR is considered “awful,” according to FanGraphs.

But hey, why not increase the sample size? Since the beginning of 2012, when injuries became a major issue, Kemp’s minus-38.8 UZR is the worst among all major league outfielders with at least 2,000 innings played. He has cost the Dodgers a big league outfield-high 37 runs, according to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) stat.

Kemp has played strictly left field since the end of May, ostensibly because he no longer can hack it in center field. Kemp, a two-time Gold Glove winner, always was an overrated defender, but his shift to a corner outfield spot decreases his overall value, particularly if he’s no longer capable of producing at an MVP-caliber offensive level. And while Kemp has come on strong of late, the 29-year-old’s power and basestealing prowess has dipped since he totaled 39 homers, 40 stolen bases, 126 RBIs and a .986 OPS in 2011. This season, Kemp is hitting .274 with seven homers, 28 RBIs, five steals and a .793 OPS in 67 games.

Simply put, Kemp is trending in the wrong direction. Even if the Dodgers picked up a large chunk of the $107 million remaining on Kemp’s contract beyond this season, he’ll still be under team control through 2019, at which point he could be dead money.

The Red Sox could use outfield help for now and the future, as the organization severely lacks depth at the position. But when it comes to Kemp, they’re better off pursuing more attractive options.