Relax, Matt Kemp isn’t coming to Boston.
Not for Jon Lester, anyway.
Rather, it’s probably more accurate to say not solely for Jon Lester.
Of the many trade rumors to make the rounds on the Sunday before Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trading deadline, there was perhaps no proposition more ridiculed than the one that suggested the Red Sox might trade their free-agent-to-be lefty for Kemp, a player who has hit 14 home runs the last two seasons combined and has an OPS no better than Ben Zobrist. His most similar batter on Baseball Reference is Corey Hart of the Mariners. Hart makes $6 million and is a free agent after this season. Kemp makes $21 million per season and is a free agent after the 2019 season.
The Dodgers will have pick up most of the money, sure, but not sure that’s too easy with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti reminding Ben Cherington that the Dodgers did indeed take on all the money owed to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett in 2012. Besides, when the Sox insist they’re looking for a king’s ransom if they’re going to be convinced to deal their ace, that’s not exactly what they had in mind.
Still, “Boston may talk Lester, and the best fit is the Dodgers,” one rival GM told CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.
From a market perspective, Lester’s availability has sort of put the screws to the Tampa Bay Rays, who find themselves floating David Price’s name with less cachet than it might have had a week ago, now that the Sox are open to talking about Lester. From a Dodgers perspective, imagine adding the 10-7 hurler to a rotation that already includes Zack Greinke, Clayton Kerhaw, and Beckett, Lester’s old pal, who also happens to be a free agent at the end of the season. As for the Red Sox, well, they just need to be blown away in order for any deal to be a possibility. It seems the Dodgers could be willing to do that.
Indeed, Los Angeles has a surplus of outfielders in the same way Boston has a bevy of promising arms making their way through the system. As it stands now, Kemp is fighting for playing time at Chavez Ravine, where Crawford, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier are making a combined $60.45 million this season, and have together hit 28 home runs and driven in 151 runs. Twelve of the homers and 54 of the RBI are from Puig.
And yet, 22-year-old Joc Pederson remains in Triple-A Albuquerque, where the California native has hit 21 home runs with a 1.042 OPS. He was ranked the 34th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the season, and it’s probably clear that he’s major league-ready, potentially adding some spark to a farm system that has gone thirsting for power.Like Boston, for instance. He does strike out a ton (110 times already this season), and has shown an inability to hit lefties (batted .200 against then last season at Double-A Chattanooga, .206 in winter ball), but he’s Los Angeles’ top guy, and seemingly a natural fit for the Red Sox.
“Pederson straight up (for Lester) … who says no?” one rival GM asked Heyman. “If I’m Boston, I’d take Pederson in a heartbeat.”
According to Heyman, the Dodgers are reluctant to discuss trading their elite prospects, which include shortstop Corey Seager, 17-year-old lefty pitcher Julio Urias, and Pederson, but the Red Sox are in a position of strength when it comes to short, where Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero lay in waiting after Stephen Drew 2.0 finishes its course. They desperately need outfield power, which is why, for better of worse, the Dodgers make the most sense to ask to the dance.
So if you’re the Dodgers and hesitant to give up a guy Sports Illustrated recently called an “uber-prospect,” might you then try to convince the Red Sox to take on an added burden for the benefit of landing Pederson? Goodness, it’s not going to be Crawford, and Daniel Nava has more threat in his bat these days than Ethier. That leaves Kemp and the $107 million remaining on his contract, one the Dodgers would desperately love to escape. Sound familiar?
There’s also this to think about; what if Kemp were to enjoy a Renaissance in Boston the same way Mike Lowell enjoyed one when he was the Red Sox’ price for landing Beckett from the Marlins in 2005? In nine major league seasons, he is a guy with a career .837 OPS and was second in MVP voting only three years ago. All things considered, he’s not the worst guy to take a chance on, as long as you’re not paying the bulk of what’s remaining on his ridiculous deal.
The Globe’s Nick Cafardo tweeted Sunday night that a Dodgers source indicated there were no talks regarding Lester and Kemp at this time, which said little if there are indeed Lester and Pederson talks heating up. Kemp isn’t the target, just the hand-me-down you might have to take for Pederson.
If Lester is going to be dealt – which is seeming more and more a possibility – the Dodgers may be willing and have the player you’re desperately lacking in your franchise.
No, Kemp isn’t coming to Boston for Lester, straight-up. If he does, he’ll be part of a package similar to the last time these two teams made a deal. Maybe Mike Carp can even play the role of Nick Punto this time around.
Then the Red Sox can test Lester at his word that he still would have contract discussions with the team even if he were traded. In essence, Boston would be doing Lester a favor in that a deal would mean that no team would have to compensate a draft pick (the team that lands Lester can’t offer him a qualifying offer) in signing Lester in the offseason. That could mean more teams will get in on the bidding, which means an even bigger payday.
One that, eventually, the Red Sox, or somebody else, very well could regret only a few years down the road, much like the Dodgers do with one Matt Kemp.