The San Diego Padres are changing. Again. They have a whole new plan, this time the right one, they’re pretty sure, and that has meant trading away just about every player who was part of the old plan. On Saturday it was Matt Kemp’s turn.
He was dealt to the Atlanta Braves, which means in three seasons the former All Star and near-MVP has gone from a team that won 94 games in 2014, to one that won 74 in 2015, to one on pace to lose 105 in 2016. This can be the path when a player such as Kemp, an old-ish 31, finds himself down a couple tools, and on a contract paying him for all those tools. He is due $64.5 million for the next three seasons. The Padres, via their 2014 deal with the Dodgers, will send 10.5 million. The Braves will pay the rest. The world gets creative on you.
This time, he was traded for a contract that was never any good, not even for even a day. Cuban outfielder Hector Olivera, also 31 years old, was signed by the Dodgers 15 months ago for six years and $62.5 million, the first $28 million of it as a signing bonus. He was traded to the Braves in the middle of last summer, did not hit, was suspended for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy, and now goes to the Padres in the middle of this summer. He is eligible to come off the suspended list Tuesday, but the Padres immediately designated Olivera for assignment. He is a .245 hitter in 30 major league games, a .257 hitter in 47 minor-league games, and has shown little power or pitch recognition in either arena. Though they will help soften the remainder of Kemp’s contract, the Padres will come out ahead financially, and that – along with trading a slew veterans for even more prospects – is the new plan.
What remains of Kemp’s tools is power, along with name recognition. Scheduled to move into their new ballpark next season, the Braves are running thin on both. While playing to a .262 batting average and .285 on-base percentage, while striking out 100 times and walking 16, Kemp has hit 23 home runs. Only five years ago, before the injuries and the $160-million contract, Kemp batted .324 with 39 HRs, 126 RBI, 40 SBs and 115 runs. While never a great outfielder, as he was given to the occasional misread and circuitous route, he was at least good enough to play center field for a team on the rise, and even won a Gold Glove.
A major part of a Padres rebirth that did not happen, Kemp starts over with the Braves. They have pointed to 2017 as a reasonable time for their own rebirth, and appear to be behind schedule. They do have prospects on the way, starting with shortstop Dansby Swanson (Shelby Miller trade) and lefty Sean Newcomb (Andrelton Simmons trade) and righty Aaron Blair (Miller trade, again). How long before they become Kemp’s teammates is the mystery, of course, along with what kind of player Kemp is when they do.
Some things you can’t plan for.