Dodgers remain open to keeping Kemp
Outfielder was reacquired by LA in December deal with Braves
LOS ANGELES -- Conspicuous by his absence from Saturday's Dodger Stadium FanFest was Matt Kemp, but the Dodgers open Spring Training in less than three weeks and he's likely to be there, competing for an outfield job.
Kemp's acquisition in a mega-salary swap with Atlanta -- dropping the Dodgers below the luxury tax threshold for 2018 -- was accompanied by the assumption that Los Angeles preferred to trade him or, if it can't find a deal, release him.
So far, the Dodgers have done neither, and general manager Farhan Zaidi made it sound as if the new front office that traded Kemp to San Diego three years ago now believes he can be an asset to a club that fell one win shy of a championship.
"He's going to be one of our guys in camp, and we have a little open competition in left field and I think he'll be part of that -- as of now," Zaidi said.
In addition to the 33-year-old Kemp, competitors for that role include Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Alex Verdugo and Alvin Toles. Starters in center and right field are Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig.
"He understands the dynamic, that we're open to having dialogue with other teams that might have more opportunity for him," said Zaidi, who could look to create payroll space with free agents like Yu Darvish still available.
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Kemp brings with him a $43 million salary commitment over the next two seasons and diminishing defensive metrics. Also, his first stint in Los Angeles did not end ideally.
Zaidi, however, said the club knew in making the trade that keeping Kemp was a possibility.
"We're not worried about that," said Zaidi. "He's in great shape. He's been in L.A., he's reconnected with some of his old teammates. We haven't made it a secret that the trade was primarily financially motivated. But a motivated Matt Kemp can help a lot of teams in baseball, including us. It's our responsibility to keep our options open, to let it play out. And if he can help us on the field, that's what everybody wants."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was reminded that Kemp and Puig had a difficult relationship.
"That was three years ago," said Roberts, who wasn't the manager at the time. "Both guys want to win. I don't see that as a problem. I talked to Matt about being open-minded. It's a different clubhouse with a lot of good players, and he just assured me that he wants to be on a winner and that coming back to L.A. was a dream and he's thrilled.
"He worked out here a couple weeks ago and really showed guys he is in good shape, and they got together and talked and he liked what's going on. I'm excited to have him on the roster."
Closer Kenley Jansen said he has no concerns with a Kemp return.
"I've been in contact with Matt. I understand what the Dodgers tried to do, to reset under the luxury tax," Jansen said. "Just to have Matt back, if he's going to stay here, we're all excited. To have Matt back is awesome. I'm looking forward to seeing him in Spring Training. I believe he can help us tremendously. He worked out with us. He lost a lot of weight. We all saw what Matt did. He can carry an organization. If he's back, he can help us win."
Kemp hit 19 home runs with 64 RBIs in 115 games last season, during which he landed on the disabled list twice. In 2016, he hit 35 home runs with 108 RBIs between the Padres and Braves in 156 games. But the two-time National League Gold Glove Award winner, who stole 40 bases in 2011, stole none last year and one in 2016. His speed hasn't been the same since he broke a bone in his ankle in 2013 that required surgery.