Discussing the Would-Be Worst Trade Ever

Baseball’s Winter Meetings have arrived in San Diego, as you might’ve heard, and the Padres are expected to make some type of splash during the five day gala. Last week, Ken Rosenthal indicated what a potential cannonball-in-trade-form might look like:

Based on my Twitter feed and various blogs I read, it seems like there’s generally been a good deal of excitement over the prospect of landing an established bat like Kemp, and that’s certainly fair. I understand the desire for the Padres to finally make a noteworthy move, especially in an offseason where they’ve flirted — and struck out, at least so far — with seemingly every major position player free agent and trade candidate. They took what appeared to be (somewhat) legitimate runs at both Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, only to fall short. On the trade market, the Padres have been linked to numerous bats, including Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, and Kemp, but nothing has materialized.

To make matters worse, the first “significant” move of the Padres offseason to date (if you don’t count the Reymond Fuentes trade, anyway) is the one-year, $1.5 million deal reached with shortstop Clint Barmes last week. Yeah, that’s the same Barmes who, among players with at least 600 plate appearances from 2012-2014, ranks 223 out of 228 in wRC+. Of course, the reality is that the Barmes acquisition isn’t really a significant one at all; it’s a bit move for a defense-first shortstop that provides instant depth — but nothing more — at short after the Padres non-tendered Everth Cabrera. It’s the kind of move that might make more sense when the offseason can be evaluated in full.

That didn’t stop hordes of Padres fans from voicing their displeasure with the deal via social media. And that’s the thing: when a team is going well, a deal like Barmes’ is rationalized. If the A’s signed Clint Barmes, for instance, everybody would talk about how it was a nice little pickup, how the A’s value defense at shortstop, or how they’ve found another market inefficiency with aging, defensively-minded middle infielders or terrible hitters. When the Padres sign Barmes, well, this happens, and the deal becomes a platform from which to mock.

With the Winter Meetings in town, the Padres have sufficient reason to make a play for a major star, both to directly improve next year’s club and to start the uphill battle of winning back a fractured fan base. Enter Matt Kemp, a marquee name, a certified Big Bat, and an occasional MVP contender.

Kemp turned 30 in September, but he’s still an excellent player, mostly thanks to an above average offensive game. Using the same parameters we used above with Barmes’ numbers — and limiting it to just outfielders — puts Kemp’s wRC+ of 134 at 11th-best from 2012-2014, ahead of players like Shin-Soo Choo, Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, and Upton. And those numbers include Kemp’s injury-plagued 2013 and don’t include his breakout, near-1.000 OPS 2011 campaign. Matt Kemp is a really good hitter, and he’d instantly improve the Padres offense next year and beyond.

On the other hand, the Dodgers appear to be actively shopping Kemp, and they’re willing to include money in a deal that makes him go away. There are reasons for that. He hit the disabled list five times between 2012 and 2013, missing a total of 138 games with injuries that were primarily related to hamstring issues and an ankle sprain. He also had shoulder surgery in the 2013 offseason.

Then there’s the declining defense, which probably directly relates to the injuries (and aging, of course). Kemp used to be an adequate defensive outfielder. From 2008 through 2011, outside of an aberrationally poor 2010, he was near league-average defensively in center field by both UZR and DRS. Since 2012, however, in not even 2,000 defensive innings in center, Kemp has been worth -33.9 runs by UZR and -31 runs by DRS. Not surprisingly, he’s mostly been shifted to the corners, but his defense hasn’t improved. Last year, in 869 and 1/3 innings between left and right field, Kemp was 13.7 runs below average by UZR and 11 runs below average by DRS. And his Fans Scouting Report ratings, like the advanced metrics, have trended down.

Then there’s Kemp’s contract, which says he’ll earn $108.25 from 2015-2019. If Kemp was a free agent this offseason, would he get a five-year, $108.25 million deal? Probably not, though he might get a figure in the ball park. On a related note, does Kemp have any surplus value?

kemp

As always, you can quibble with the exact numbers used. Maybe the $/WAR is a bit light considering the current market, but they’re the same numbers I used with Grandal last week. And maybe you think Kemp should project to be a better player, but consider that Steamer only pegs him for 1.8 2.1 WAR in 2015 and PECOTA’s long-term forecast, which hasn’t yet factored in 2014, has him at 13 WAR over the remainder of his contract.

So, using these numbers, Kemp actually has negative surplus value, which is why the Dodgers are willing to include money in a deal to move him. But they also apparently want Yasmani Grandal back in a potential trade and, according to one report/tweet I’ve lost in the baseball news ether, at least one other player. We won’t run through the reasons why we don’t want to trade Grandal because we did just that last week, where we estimated that the Padres catcher would be worth 11 WAR (and $50-plus million in surplus value) over the next four years. Kemp and Grandal might have a similar on-field outlook going forward, but, unlike Kemp, Grandal hasn’t even hit arbitration yet, so he might only make $25 or $30 million over the next four years. If the Dodgers want to hand over $50-plus million in the deal and forget about getting another player in return along with Grandal, maybe it’d be something San Diego should consider. Maybe.

If the Padres really want to add Matt Kemp, they should simply take on his entire salary and send a low-level prospect to the Dodgers. It’d be a salary dump for LA, clearing out an outfield logjam and freeing up money for the Jon Lester sweepstakes — or whoever the Dodgers have their eye on. For the Padres, it’d essentially be a free agent acquisition. Maybe a slight overpay, but one that would make plenty of sense. The Padres need a bat, they need to make a splash, and free agent hitters tend to shy away from Petco. Kemp would legitimately make San Diego better in the short-term, even if they’d be paying him more for his 2011 breakout than for his expected future performance. As an added bonus, the Padres wouldn’t lose a draft pick.

What makes the potential deal involving Grandal even more baffling: if the Padres are hell-bent on adding an impact bat, why didn’t they just sign Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval or Yasmany Tomas (or, heck, even Adam LaRoche)? That way they’re spending the money, but they’re also holding onto one of their most valuable pieces in Grandal, allowing them to either trade him for someone else or split the catching/first base duties next year. Sure, as we mentioned, maybe San Diego isn’t a favorite destination for hitters, but you’ve gotta think somebody would bite if the money was right.

The Grandal-Kemp proposed swap is more a shuffling of deck chairs than a tangible on-field upgrade, and it’d cost the Padres a whole lot more dough than simply holding onto Grandal. Worse, it might signify that the Padres are too worried about fan opinion. Sure, Kemp’s more of a name brand than Grandal and his arrival might sell a few season tickets and drum up some goodwill from the fan base, but it’d hurt the team from a baseball standpoint. It seems like the kind of deal a desperate team might make, selling off an improving, undervalued youngster for an over-hyped, aging veteran.

The Padres can’t turn to desperation-mode already. AJ Preller’s only been at the helm for four months and while the major league roster doesn’t look overly promising in the short-term, especially with the Giants and Dodgers in the division, the Padres aren’t that far from fielding a contender. They just have to take a deep breath and realize that trading Yasmani Grandal for Matt Kemp isn’t going to help them get there.

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  • Len Gutman

    Dustin,

    I couldn’t agree with you more on Kemp for Grandal. I feel like the Padres would be getting the short end of the stick on the deal, but more than that it doesn’t make sense in the long run. What is the long-term goal, or rather what should be the Padres long-term goal? I don’t believe for a second they can compete in 2015 even with Kemp — they have huge holes all over from outfield to first base to shortstop. Kemp may give them 25 or 30 jacks next year, but they will still finish third like they always do.

    Where is this franchise headed? Either they should sign a bunch of high priced free agents and try to compete now, or they should get young talent and set themselves up for the future. I believe the latter is the better option. I’m willing to sacrifice 2015 and even 2016 if they can be the Royals in 2017. Right now there’s only a few guys I’d keep. Gyorko, Liriano. Probably Renfroe and Trea Turner too. Keep some young arms like Fried and Wisler, Erlin, Leubke, Hahn, Despaigne. Everyone else is either dead weight or trade bait. I’d like to see them unload Cashner, Ross and Kennedy for young bats. Then in 2017 bring in a guy like Kemp to augment the kids.

    I’m frustrated by the Kemp talks and the Upton chatter too.

    Len

    • Dustin

      I’m kind of with you, Len, in that I don’t think now is the time to go all-in for a guy like Kemp, unless they are going to add a bunch of talent this offseason.

      I don’t think they need to blow everything up necessarily, as I’m not sure they’re *that* far from being competitive, but I don’t think they should be sacrificing the future for the present — especially when swapping Kemp for Grandal might — and it depends on how you view the two players — actually may them worse both now and later. Thanks for response.

  • schlom