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Who’s paying for Matt Kemp to be awesome?

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Spoiler—it isn’t the Dodgers.

89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard Photo by Nick Wass - Pool/Getty Images

When I was a teenager, I won $10 on a scratch-off lottery ticket and suffered a crisis of morality. What had I done to deserve this money? My great aunt paid $2 for the ticket. The convenience store proprietors pay the state some unknown figure so they can sell scratch-offs (probably? I don’t even know how this works). The New Jersey Lottery Commission subsidizes public education, and now they had $10 less to distribute to schools.

I paid absolutely nothing for the ticket, so why should I claim the prize? Should I give each of those entities a cut of my winnings? Perhaps it would be best if I just donated the money to charity, or gave it to someone on the street.

I kept the money. I spent it on used CDs. It’s not my proudest moment, but nothing compelled me to do otherwise. To the winner went the spoils—in this case “Ride the Lightning” and “Strange Brew: The Very Best of Cream.”

If the Dodgers have a conscience (ok, stop laughing), they might suffer from a similar dilemma over Matt Kemp. Following the 2011 season, in which he amassed 8.3 fWAR and was the MVP runner-up, they rewarded him with an eight year, $159.25M extension.

Sadly, the contract has been mostly disastrous. He was eventually shunted around the league in three different salary dumps, somehow finding his way back with the Dodgers in 2018, the seventh and penultimate year of the contract. What’s even more amazing is that he’s suddenly awesome again! He finished the first half of the season with a 136 wRC+ and 1.8 fWAR, representing the Dodgers in the All-Star Game.

The Dodgers certainly had no reason to think he’d turn into a great hitter again. He’s their scratch-off winner. But after all those salary dumps, how much did they actually pay for the ticket?

The Contract and the Trades

The extension Kemp signed with the Dodgers prior to 2012 has an average annual value of just under $20M through 2019. Here’s how it breaks down by season (all salary info courtesy of Baseball-Reference):

  • 2012: $10M
  • 2013: $20M
  • 2014: $21M
  • 2015: $21.25M
  • 2016: $21.75M
  • 2017: $21.75M
  • 2018: $21.75M
  • 2019: $21.75M

He only stayed with the Dodgers for the first three years of the deal. Following the 2014 season, he was traded to the Padres along with Tim Federowicz for Yasmani Grandal, Zach Eflin, and Joe Weiland. On the field, this was a great move for Los Angeles, as Grandal became one of the best catchers in the league. However, it cost them quite a bit to dump Kemp. They sent $32M to San Diego to cover his salary—$18M up front for 2015 and $3.5M for each of the 2015-19 seasons.

Kemp played 254 games for the Padres with only a .301 OBP, before they became fed up. On July 30, 2016, they shipped him off to the Braves for Hector Olivera, They also pledged $10.5M to Atlanta to offset his salary—$3M for the remainder of 2016 as well as $2.5M per year for the remaining three years of the deal.

During his one full year in Atlanta, Kemp struggled offensively (league-leading 25 double plays) and defensively (-17 DRS), resulting in -0.5 fWAR. This past December, the Braves agreed to send him back to the Dodgers in a massive exchange of unwanted contracts. Los Angeles sent Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and $4.5M to Atlanta in return.

After all these transactions, here’s how much each of those teams is paying for Kemp each season. It’s important to note that the Dodgers are treated as two different teams for this purpose. “LAD1” is how much they paid for him on his original deal. “LAD2” is how much they’ll pay after reacquiring him. This is because after they sent him to San Diego, the remaining money they pledged was just dead money on the books that could’ve been owed to anyone. To the payroll department, it may as well have gone to some other faceless line item. If you disagree with this, simply add the LAD1 and LAD2 totals together.

Matt Kemp Salary Breakdown ($ Million)

Year LAD 1 SDP ATL LAD 2
Year LAD 1 SDP ATL LAD 2
2012 10 0 0 0
2013 20 0 0 0
2014 21 0 0 0
2015 18 3.25 0 0
2016 3.5 15.17 3.08 0
2017 3.5 2.5 15.75 0
2018 3.5 2.5 -4.5 20.25
2019 3.5 2.5 0 15.75
Total 83 25.92 14.33 36

After all the deals and dumps, the current Dodgers are paying... 97.7 percent of his 2018 salary!?! That seems impossible! If you add back in the LAD1 amount, they’re paying 109.1 percent! This is mostly because of the $4.5M they paid to Atlanta to get him back.

It appears that the Dodgers’ moral compass points north after all. They can enjoy the wonderful renaissance of present day Kemp with a clear conscience (again, stop laughing). Except for one small problem...

Offsetting Contracts

Do you remember Padres legend Hector Olivera? How about the incredible seasons Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir are having in Atlanta? No? That’s because they never happened. All three players were immediately released as soon as they were traded for Kemp.

Olivera was originally a pricey Cuban free agent boondoggle of the Dodgers. They signed him for $67M in May 2015, but he never suited up for their big league club. Two months later, they sent him to Atlanta in a salary dump unrelated to Kemp. (Apparently these teams make a habit of passing around bad contracts.) He played 30 total games for the Braves, then went to the Padres in the Kemp deal, and was released eleven days later. Here is his salary breakdown starting in 2016, the year he was traded for Kemp.

Hector Oliveira Salary Breakdown ($ Million)

Year SDP LAD ATL
Year SDP LAD ATL
2016 2.67 4.67 1.33
2017 6 4.67
2018 6.5 4.67
2019 7.5 4.67
2020 8.5 4.67
Total 31.17 23.35 1.33

Olivera’s whereabouts are currently unknown. The Padres took on that $31.17M knowing they would get nothing in return. This has to be added into the amount they’re currently paying for Kemp. It was a straight-up 1-1 trade (with the Padres actually sending additional money back to Atlanta), so taking on Olivera’s salary is a big part of how much the Padres paid to get rid of Kemp.

Gonzalez and Kazmir are a little more straightforward. Both of them are in the final year of large contracts in 2018. The Braves released Gonzalez two days after the Kemp trade. They’re eating $21.81M of his salary this year (the Mets picked him up, so they’re paying him $550K of the $22.36M he’s owed). Kazmir was cut in Spring Training, leaving his $17.67M on the Atlanta books. Both salaries have to be factored into the Kemp breakdown, just like Oliveira’s. (Brandon McCarthy costs $11.5M and Charlie Culberson 575K, but both of them are playing for the Braves this year. As such, they’re actual baseball acquisitions and not just pure salary dumps.)

After including the salaries of Olivera, Gonzalez, and Kazmir, this is the adjusted Kemp contract breakdown.

Adjusted Matt Kemp Salary Breakdown ($ Million)

Year LAD 1 SDP ATL LAD 2
Year LAD 1 SDP ATL LAD 2
2012 10 0 0 0
2013 20 0 0 0
2014 21 0 0 0
2015 18 3.25 0 0
2016 3.5 17.84 0.41 0
2017 3.5 8.5 9.75 0
2018 3.5 9 28.48 -19.23
2019 3.5 10 0 8.25
Total 83 48.59 38.64 -10.98

After all the trades, offsetting salary dumps and cash considerations, the Dodgers are saving $19.23M by taking Matt Kemp in 2018! that’s not the injured LAD1 version of Matt Kemp, nor is it the inept San Diego version or immobile Atlanta version. It’s the .309/.353/.518 All-Star LAD2 version. Even if you want to include the LAD1 money, they still save nearly $16M this year for the pleasure of his service.

That’s a heck of a scratch-off ticket. Just like I did, the Dodgers will surely keep the winnings, but instead of a pre-owned Metallica album, they could redeem Kemp for a return to the World Series. It’s basically the same thing.


Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983