Is Matt Kemp Worth $200 Million?

Matt Kemp, center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, just completed an incredible season. After flirting with the Triple Crown, a feat not accomplished in the National League since long before Kemp’s birth, and falling just one swing short of joining the exclusive 40/40 club for home runs/stolen bases in a season, Kemp’s agent rationally assesses his client’s upoming contract by noting “the sky’s the limit”.

In an article for the LA Times, Bill Plaschke speculates Kemp may be headed for a $200 million dollar payday under a long-term deal that could keep the 28 year-old “superstar” in Dodger Blue for the next seven years. Kemp’s remarkable success in 2011 follows on the heels of a 2010 campaign in which Dodger’s general manager Ned Colletti publicly questioned, then challenged Kemp’s efforts on the field. The controversy quickly spilled over into the dugout, and when Kemp’s relationship with Dodger coaches Larry Bowa and Bob Shaefer progressed from bad to worse, many wondered just how long Kemp would remain in Dodger Blue. Kemp promised Dodger fans would see a re-energized, 40/40 center fielder in 2011, and Dodger fans are quick to point out that “but for that rainout game in D.C.”, he would have matched his prediction.

But is Matt Kemp worth $200 million dollars over seven years? In a sport that plays 162 games with 25 players on each team’s active roster, can one player, any player, impact his team’s performance as to justify a contract nearly double most team’s annual payroll? My loyalty to the Dodgers traces to 1962, yes I do “bleed Dodger Blue”. And I would love to see Matt Kemp in Dodger Blue under a long-term deal. But focusing solely on the impact of one player on team performance, the only rational answer to the $200-million dollar question seems to be no.

In 2010, Kemp hit .249, launched 28 home runs, added 89 runs-batted-in, and recorded 19 successful steals. In 2011, a re-energized Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI’s and 40 steals. Truly, an incredible turn-around! But what about the impact on team performance? The 2010 Dodgers finished the season 80-82, two games under .500. The 2011 team improved to 82-79, three games above breaking even. The 2010 club finished fourth in the division, 12 games behind San Francisco. The 2011 Dodgers finished third, 11.5 games behind Arizona.

Kemp, Ethier and Loney can be retained through arbitration. The Dodger’s unsettled financial situation dictates the team pay as directed to retain their “nucleus”, look within for speed and pitching to supplement the roster, and reap the benefits in 2012 of three very talented young players giving everything they have to position themselves for 2013 free agency.

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