Is Matt Kemp Damaged Goods?

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post wrote yesterday that the Nationals would have interest in Matt Kemp should he be made available in a trade:

The Nationals would have interest in targeting Los Angeles Dodgerscenter fielder Matt Kemp in a trade if the Dodgers make him available, according to a baseball source. Their potential interest in Kemp and other outfielders on the free agent market shows the Nationals may be open to a creative solution should they not re-sign first baseman Adam Dunn….Apparent discord between Kemp and the Dodgers has made it seem possible Kemp could be had in a trade. Dodgers General Manager Ned Colleti has told reporters he would not actively shop Kemp but would listen to offers.

Entering the 2010 season Kemp was considered one of the most promising young outfielders in baseball. In 2009, at the age of 24, Kemp batted .297/.352//490 with 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 34 stolen bases helping him earn a 5.0 WAR. As a young star in Los Angeles Kemp was often seen on the town living the young superstar life, and he even started dating pop singer Rihanna.

However Kemp’s on (and off) the field success in 2009 did not transfer over to 2010. Early in the season people questioned his commitment to training, and in June he had a large confrontation with his manager Joe Torre which led to a benching. His 2010 line reflected his troubles as the slugger batted an atrocious .249/.310/.450 with 28 homers, a strikeout rate near 30%, and a UZR of -24.0 in centerfield. Yikes.

As of Oct. 2 the Dodgers have publicly stated they are not shopping Kemp but that they would entertain offers. If the Nationals were to pry Kemp away from the Dodgers it would likely take at least one top level prospect, such as Ross Detwiler and perhaps another arm or two.

Unfortunately Kemp’s 2010 makes me wonder if we even want him. This franchise has a poor history of picking up “unbelievably talented” outfielders out of the bargain basement bin in an attempt to resurrect their career. The names Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes come to mind. Three players who, after we were done with them, we had to beg teams to take them off our hands.

Of course, Kemp has a far better major league track record than any of the three names listed above, which in itself proves he has the ability to get it done in the MLB where the others may not. But it is still an organizational move that perhaps the Nationals should have learned a lesson from. Perhaps picking up other people’s garbage when it becomes available doesn’t work in todays baseball…even if it is potentially really good garbage.

If you were to ask me before the 2010 season if I would be open to a trade for Matt Kemp, I would have said absolutely. This franchise needs to start putting itself in a position however where it doesn’t have to buy low and hope that talent turns around (The Jim Bowden Philosphy), and instead buy high and build on a strong foundation we have developed.