COMMENTARY | During his fourth full season in the majors, a young MLB superstar-in-waiting finally delivers on his five-tool talent with a breakout season, resulting in a runner-up finish in the NL MVP race. The following offseason, that player is rewarded with a lucrative multi-year contract extension that presumably solidifies his place as one of the cornerstones of his organization's future.
No sooner than the ink has dried on the new contract, the team begins to regret their hefty investment in the young star. His breakout season is immediately followed by two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons, turning the young star from franchise pillar to trade candidate in less than 18 months.
If you think I'm referring to Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, you wouldn't be completely wrong. According to a recent report by Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles will listen to offers for their $160-million man during this week's general managers' meetings in Orlando.
The Dodgers would be foolish not to keep their options open on their trio of high-priced outfielders (including Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford). However, they'd also do well to exhibit a bit more patience with Kemp in particular, especially considering the eerily similar circumstances under which they acquired shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins for a substantial discount.
Following the 2009 season, Ramirez finished second to then St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols in the NL MVP voting after producing a .342/.410/.543 slash line, including a career-best 106 RBI and winning the National League batting title. Ramirez was on his way to delivering another strong season in 2010 before a series of injuries and questions about his attitude began to derail his career.
Despite the infamous kicked-ball incident that drew the ire of then manager Freddy Garcia, Ramirez made his third consecutive All-Star team in 2010 before an elbow injury sidelined him for the last three weeks of the year. He was limited him to just 92 games during the 2011 season after re-aggravating a left-shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.
Ramirez followed up a disastrous 2011 season with an equally awful start in 2012, leading to him being dealt to the Dodgers in July of that year for a package that included none of Los Angeles' most highly-regarded prospects.
He appeared to be motivated by a change of scenery, immediately improving his production during his final 64 games with the Dodgers. More importantly, Ramirez played in 157 games in 2012, indicating that the injury bug may indeed be a thing of the past.
Injuries again limited Ramirez to just 86 games in 2013. But when he was on the field he again played at an MVP level, re-establishing his place among the best 10-15 players in all of MLB. Perhaps Ramirez never would have regained his form in Miami, but his resurgence does serve as a cautionary tale about giving up on an injury-plagued star too soon.
Like Ramirez, Kemp's devotion to the game was also questioned during his early years. However, he's emerged as one of the Dodgers' unquestioned leaders and hardest working players over the past three years. Kemp's dedication to greatness shown through during a historically-great April in 2012, one that led many to believe that he had arrived as the game's best player.
It's easy to understand why the Dodgers may have soured on Kemp following a series of hamstring, shoulder and ankle injuries that have derailed his ascent to superstardom over the past two seasons. However, he just turned 29 at the end of September, and there is no reason to believe that any of Kemp's injuries have permanently limited any of his considerable talents.
The Dodgers outfield is obviously crowded with Kemp, Puig, Crawford, and Ethier representing four well-compensated players competing for three regular spots in the outfield (not to mention top prospect Joc Pederson looking as if he'll be major-league ready in the next year). But if Los Angeles insist on trying to move Kemp in the near future, they'd be wise to at least allow him to improve his trade value during the first half of the 2014 season. They may find that he is more than capable of making good on his massive contract and leading the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988.
Geoff Ratliff is an MLB and fantasy baseball enthusiast and a former Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers for Bleacher Report. He is also the co-host of the baseball podcast Pop Fly Boys and COO Fantasy Sports Warehouse.
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