The hot start for the Chicago White Sox in 2016 has put the team in excellent position in the division. Their closest competitor is the Detroit Tigers and their one properly functioning starting pitcher, who are three games back, and the two biggest actual threats to the division title, in my own opinion, the Kansas City Royals and the Cleveland Indians, sit four and a half and six games back, respectively. Yes, it’s early, but these games matter and the excellent early performance should have given the White Sox a clear idea that they’re going to be buyers on the trade market this year. And if the earlygoing is any indication, the White Sox have a rather pedestrian team TAv of .254, the White Sox need more offense. Enter Matt Kemp.
If there is one thing Matt Kemp can still do well, it’s hit a baseball with a wooden stick. Over the last two and a quarter years, Kemp has hit to the tune of a robust .277/.327/.482 slash line and a corresponding TAv of .291, well above the league average mark of .260. As of right now, there is only one player on the White Sox with a better TAv for this season, Brett Lawrie at .302, and he almost definitely won’t maintain that production for a whole season. And while there’s great reason to think that Jose Abreu will rebound and possibly boast a better offensive slash line and TAv, there’s a very real chance that Kemp would come to the White Sox and immediately be their best offensive player, which would no doubt be a gigantic boost to an offense that certainly needs it.
While much has been made of the White Sox desire to acquire a left handed bat, the White Sox have actually been more effective against right handed pitching this season with a .691 OPS against righties and a .684 OPS against lefties. At this point, more offense really trumps the handedness of the batter and Kemp would obviously still improve the offense against righties too, as he would most likely be replacing Avisail Garcia (who I’d suggest the White Sox include in a trade offer for Kemp) and his multi-year TAv of .232 against right-handed pitching.
But what really makes Kemp the ideal trade target for the White Sox is his production versus acquisition cost relative to the other alternatives out there. Kemp was acquired last offseason by the Padres as part of AJ Preller’s aggressive moves to make the Padres great again!
At the time of acquisition, Kemp was owed $107 million by his then current employer the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers volunteered $32 million, $18 million of which came in 2015, to the Padres to help cover Kemp’s financial burden and facilitate the deal. Preller’s moves would fall flat as the Padres failed to win 75 games last season and now they currently sit in dead last in the NL west at 10-16. As most of the Dodgers’ financial help came last season, the Padres have now been saddled with essentially a four-year, $72 million contract for an aging slugger that the team clearly has no use for.
Since the Padres have been notoriously cheap since they came into existence as a franchise, there is obvious financial incentive for them to rid themselves of Kemp. In all likelihood, this means the White Sox could acquire Kemp for no significant assets if they’re just willing to take on the entirety of the Matt Kemp contract, which they absolutely should be.
The White Sox received a $13 million lifeboat earlier this year from the retirement of Adam LaRoche. Roughly one-sixth of the season has expired which means Kemp is effectively due $15 million the rest of the year, and that total decreasing every passing game. At this point, acquiring Kemp is no greater a financial burden for the 2016 season than having Adam LaRoche was, so it would stand to reason that the White Sox would be willing to take on all of Kemp’s salary in 2016 without issue.
The White Sox will also no longer have the contract of John Danks around in 2017, which, again in theory, would mean that the team would be capable of absorbing Kemp’s contract next season also without issue. You could argue that the White Sox would not want Kemp’s contract in 2018 and 2019 and you’d absolutely be correct, but right now being saddled with an albatross contract in two years, when the White Sox have less than $50 million in total guaranteed salary committed for each year, is a burden the team must be willing to bear, especially during the team’s best chance at the postseason since 2012.
The other alternatives aren’t exactly enticing either. The White Sox could have the Padres absorb more of the contract, which means an increase in prospect cost. Or they could trade for a player like Carlos Gonzalez who only has two remaining years but has more trade value, which also means an increase in prospect cost, or trade for another less productive bat like Jay Bruce, which.. yuck.
The White Sox don’t have the prospects for another big trade unless they’re willing to part with either Tim Anderson or Carson Fulmer, which probably isn’t a great idea for the White Sox in the long-term. The farm system is thinned out free agency hampered the 2015 draft and the Todd Frazier trade this winter. The best asset the White Sox have is financial flexibility, and they should use as much of it as they can to increase both the short-term and long-term outlook of the franchise.
After all factors are considered, I believe Kemp is the most logical and realistic target, as emphasizing salary relief can really serve to minimize the prospect package going out west in return. I certainly hope the White Sox front office is aggressive and Tuesday’s news about Danks suggests just that, so ideally it’s only a matter of time before Kemp is a White Sox. Sock? Socks? Who cares as long as he slugs some dingers?
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