During a meeting last Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Kemp's agent, former major league pitcher Dave Stewart, was told by the Dodgers that the club was not planning to trade their All-Star center fielder. Stewart and Kemp were both happy with the news, allowing Kemp to focus on delivering on the final six years and $128 million left on his contract.
There is no guarantee that Kemp will return to the form that made him the 2011 National League MVP runner-up. However, given his career trajectory prior to the 2012 season, the odds seem to be in Kemp's favor.
Kemp had no major injury history before injuring his hamstring in May of 2012, an injury that cost him 53 games. Kemp missed a total of 56 games that season, including a late-season shoulder injury that eventually required offseason surgery and continued to hamper him throughout 2013.
During his first four full years in the majors, between 2008 and 2011, Kemp never appeared in less than 155 games in a season. He was a virtual iron man from 2009 through 2011, missing only four games total during those three seasons.
Kemp also has age on his side, as the eight-year veteran won't turn 30 until late-September of next year.
The Dodgers have the benefit of allowing Kemp to get 100% healthy before putting him back on the field. Los Angeles won 92 games, captured the NL West division title and advanced to the National League Championship Series last season despite getting only 73 regular-season games from Kemp and shutting him down for the entire postseason.
The outfield also happens to be a position of strength for Los Angeles.
The Dodgers benefited greatly from an outstanding rookie campaign from right fielder Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier's resurgence proved timely in light of Kemp's extended absence. After being acquired from the Boston Red Sox in 2012, Carl Crawford solidified both left field and the leadoff spot in the lineup during his first season in Los Angeles, plugging two of the team's biggest holes from the previous season.
Top outfield prospect Joc Pederson also appears ready to reach the majors sometime next season, adding to the Dodgers' already impressive depth. If Kemp's surgically repaired ankle--or his left shoulder, which also required a follow-up surgical procedure this offseason--prevents him from being ready by opening day, the Dodgers are well-prepared to give him all the time he needs to recover.
Once healthy, Kemp should quickly return to being one of the best players in all of baseball.
His terrific 2011 set Kemp up to finally emerge as one the faces of the franchise, joining reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. Along with overcoming the disappointment of the past two seasons, Kemp should be further motivated by justifying the Dodgers' show of support for one of their few remaining homegrown stars.
If Kemp's motivation and relative youth aren't enough to convince you that he's poised to return to All-Star form, one need only look at his teammate Hanley Ramirez as proof that fallen stars can again shine bright.
Ramirez was well on his way to having his blossoming career fall off the cliff following two disastrous years in Miami. After winning the NL batting title, and finishing second to former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols in the 2009 NL MVP voting, Ramirez suddenly became snake bitten towards the end of the 2010 season. He suffered an elbow injury that cost him the last 20 games of that year, and was limited to 92 games in 2011 after aggravating a previous shoulder injury.
The injuries, combined with some immature behavior, led the Marlins to sour on Ramirez by the summer of 2012. The Dodgers benefited from Miami's discontent, acquiring Ramirez in a mid-July trade that landed him in Los Angeles for pennies on the dollar.
Although injuries once again limited Ramirez to 86 games in 2013, he played like one of the 10 best players in the game when he was on the field. He was easily the Dodgers' best offensive player, and his return to the lineup in June was key to Los Angeles rebounding from a disappointing 20-32 start.
The change of scenery undoubtedly helped Ramirez, but he also admitted that it took more than a year for him to regain his swing after undergoing offseason surgery on his injured shoulder in 2011. Given that timetable, 2014 would appear to be the year that Kemp rediscovers the stroke that allowed him to mash an NL-best 39 home runs in 2011.
Given the hamstring issues that have dogged him over the past two seasons, Kemp's days as a 40-40 threat (home runs and stolen bases) may well be over. But if 20-25 stolen bases becomes the new normal for him, Kemp would still be one of the most dangerous power-speed threats in MLB.
The stage is set for Kemp to return to the pantheon of current baseball stars, and there's every reason to believe that he will take full advantage of being back in the spotlight.
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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