Sports stars so often seem to have lousy timing. This is not the time for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp to be complaining about not playing center field. This is the time for Kemp, who not so long ago looked to have the talent to become one of the greatest Dodgers ever, to show he still can be a superstar.
Kemp has been injured so often over the last couple of years that it is easy to forget how he was considered the best player in the National League. Now, with five capable outfielders, Kemp is having trouble getting into the lineup regularly enough to be considered a full-time starter.
Not long ago he was indispensable. Now he is asking for a trade. Not long ago Kemp was a do-everything player. Now he is not hitting particularly well and is suffering through his days reclining on the bench because Los Angeles made up for his absences by acquiring fresh bodies. In order to capture a World Series title, the Dodgers stockpiled players such as Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Scott VanSlyke, outfielders all.
Just a few days ago Kemp was lobbying again for becoming the regular centerfielder. Manager Don Mattingly responded by indicating that Kemp can say anything he wants in this free country with free speech, but Mattingly was not planning to make him the everyday centerfielder. He plans to keep using him in left.
Shut up and Play
If Kemp was wise he would keep his mouth shut and just play. If he can play as well as he used to then he can force Mattingly’s hand and the manager would happily insert him into center. But Kemp has to make his case based on current performance, not past performance.
Kemp has been a great athlete. He is 6-foot-4, weighs 215 pounds and was regarded as a special player who could do just about anything on the diamond. He is a two-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. In 2011 he led the National League in runs (115), home runs (39) and runs batted in (126) while hitting .324. The guy was terrific.
In 2012 Kemp played in 106 games. In 2013 Kemp played in 73 games. The Dodgers fortified themselves against his new fragility. Healthy again in 2014 Kemp is batting around .265. Hitting .265 does not make you All-World. Kemp had built up his credit with the Dodgers, earning the benefit of the doubt by his pre-2012 performances, but more than two years passed without him making the kinds of contributions he showed he could.
The team could not run in place waiting for Kemp. So now the Dodgers have more weapons. The organization is chasing a title, with or without Kemp’s contributions. If he was smart Kemp would talk more with his bat than with his vocabulary.
If the guy hits .365 he will play anywhere he wants. If he remains at .265 he will be just another cog. Kemp has lost his leverage because of his time away. He can regain it by showing he is still the great player he once was.