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Trade Retrospective: Dodgers trade Matt Kemp to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal

It didn’t look like a bad trade on paper, but the Dodgers won this one in a landslide.

Division Series - St Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

December of 2014 was a busy one for baseball trades. The Dodgers traded Matt Kemp and Tim Federowicz to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland, and Zach Eflin. The Padres also received $32 million to cover the $107 million left on Kemp’s contract. The Dodgers then traded Eflin the very next day to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Dodgers were busy during the 2014 offseason. I already covered the Dee Gordon trade last week, which also covered the immediate trade that brought Howie Kendrick to the team. They had finished their second consecutive season winning the division — a streak that is still active, by the way — but had lost in four games in the NLDS to the Cardinals.

One of the biggest problems for the Dodgers was at catcher. Their catchers combined for a line of .181/.283/.260 for only a 60 wRC+ and -2.3 fWAR. Starting catcher A.J. Ellis was the main culprit, as his .191/.323/.254 slash line and poor defense and framing accounted for -2.0 fWAR. Moreover, his OBP and high walk rate was inflated by frequently hitting in front of the pitcher. I don’t understand why a pitcher would pitch around Ellis or intentionally walk him even with the pitcher hitting next, but it happened quite a bit. Backup catcher Drew Butera was an even worse hitter, but at least he made up for it defensively.

Grandal would be a huge upgrade at catcher, both offensively and by framing, though he still struggled at controlling the run game. During his first three years in the majors, he hit .245/.350/.412 over 777 PA and accumulated 7.6 fWAR. To give that some context, Ellis and Butera had a combined career 0.2 fWAR through 2014, and they had started their careers in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Grandal had four years left on his rookie contract, too.

This was obviously a huge upgrade at catcher, but parting with Kemp was no small thing. Saving $75 million over five years is great, but it’s not that big of a big deal when you’re the Dodgers, and Kemp was just coming off a season where he hit .287/.346/.506 for a 141 wRC+. The downside was Kemp going into his age-30 season with the effects of his injuries starting to show. Not only had he become unplayable in center field, but his defense in the corners had become highly questionable at best. The team saw the writing on the wall, and as we’ll see in the results, they called it.

To replace Grandal, the Padres acquired Derek Norris that same day, a catcher with a career line of .246/.336/.392 (108 wRC+) over his first three seasons spanning 982 PA. He might not have been as talented as Grandal, but he was still a pretty productive catcher as is. With new GM A.J. Preller trying to rebuild a team in record time, it seemed like this could be an overall win for the Padres if Kemp could be so much as a 2-3 WAR player, which as I alluded to, was a fairly large risk given his age and injury history.

An understated aspect of this trade is that is allowed the Dodgers to get younger. Grandal is four years younger than Kemp, and moving Kemp meant opening up playing time for Joc Pederson, as well as newly acquired Weiland and Eflin. These guys were mostly for pitching depth, as the Dodgers already had Julio Urías and Chris Anderson in the system. Prospect analysts expected Weiland to be a back of the rotation starter at best, but they believed Eflin had a higher ceiling. It didn’t matter, because the Dodgers traded him almost immediately to have Jimmy Rollins fill their vacancy at shortstop.

Rounding at this trade was Federowicz adding to more catching depth for the Padres. He was the quintessential back up catcher, one who was strong defensively but couldn’t hit. In 271 career plate appearances starting in 2011, he had hit a paltry .194/.247/.300.

I think this trade was a no-brainer for the Dodgers. They made a huge upgrade at catcher, parted ways with a player with some major red flags, saved $75 million, opened up playing time for a prospect, got some pitching depth, and filled their hole at shortstop. Conversely, this was awfully risky for the Padres because of Kemp, though the rewards would be huge if it panned out. Moreover, a catcher of Grandal’s caliber is arguably one of the scarcest kind of players in baseball. I’m curious as to whether or not Preller would have pulled the trigger on this trade if there were not so much pressure on him to succeed right away.

The Results

The trade was a disaster for the Padres. Kemp continued to be unplayable in the outfield, accumulating only half a win in 2015 despite hitting a respectable but disappointing .265/.312/.443. Because he wasn’t any better in 2016 and the Padres were clearly not going anywhere, they traded him to the Braves at the trade deadline.

Things continued to get worse for Kemp. In 2017, he hit a subpar .276/.318/.463, which combined with his poor baserunning and terrible defense made him worth -1.3 WAR in only 115 games. The Braves decided to send him back to the Dodgers before the 2018 season, where he thankfully enjoyed a bounce back season as a result of hitting .290/.338/.481 for a 122 wRC+. It didn’t last long because the Dodgers traded him to the Reds after the season. He hit a paltry .200/.210/.283 in only 62 PA before the team cut him at the end of May 2019. The Mets picked him up but never ended up playing him. He is currently on a minor league deal with the Marlins.

Grandal had pretty much the complete opposite experience. He became one of the best catchers in baseball. During his four years with the Dodgers, he hit .238/.337/.453, good for a 116 wRC+, and accumulated almost 20 fWAR. Over that four-year period, only Buster Posey accumulated more fWAR, and even then it was by less than a win. He was far in front of the player with the third-most fWAR, Tyler Flowers. A big component of Grandal’s catching success was the fact that he became one of the best pitch-framers in baseball.

After a receiving a just a one-year contract from the Brewers last year, Grandal got a four-year, $73 million contract from the White Sox. I’d argue that it’s still a big underpay, even when considering that he is a 31-year-old catcher.

Federowicz ended up never actually playing a game for the Padres. He tore his left meniscus during Spring Training and missed the entire season, leading him to be designated for assignment that August. Unsurprisingly for a back-up catcher, he has bounced around a lot since then and has gotten little playing time. Since 2016, he has only appeared in 74 games and had only 172 PA, with a slash line of .189/.231/.371. He is currently on a minor league deal with the Rangers.

Wieland never really panned out, unfortunately. He made only two starts for the Dodgers in 2015 and gave up a combined eight runs. They traded him to the Mariners the following year where he made only one start and gave up six runs. It became the end of his major league career. He last played professionally in the KBO last year.

Eflin debuted in 2016, but he was pretty ineffective until 2018. Over the past two seasons he has had a 4.85 RA9 and 3.5 WAR. He’s skilled at limiting free passes, but not the long ball, though you have to take into account his home ballpark and the juiced ball. His strikeout rate isn’t great either, as he has struck out barely 20 percent of the batters he has faced over the last two seasons. All in all, however, he appears to be a serviceable backend starter.

Despite the fact that Rollins was a 36-year-old shortstop, the thought process behind acquiring him was sound, as he had just put up a 4.1 WAR season in 2014. Unfortunately, he was done in 2015. He hit just .224/.285/.358 in his only season in Los Angeles.

Dodgers Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Yasmani Grandal 4 19.7
Joe Wieland 6 -0.3
Jimmy Rollins 1 0.4
Total 11 19.8
Grandal’s WAR is from FanGraphs to include his pitch-framing. All others are from Baseball Reference.

The Dodgers would have been better off holding on to Eflin instead of Rollins, especially with Corey Seager taking over shortstop at the end of 2015, but obviously Grandal makes up for all of that. Getting one of the best catchers in baseball in exchange for a large salary dump and an aging, oft injured outfielder who was running out of steam is obviously a gigantic win.

Padres Results

Remaining Control WAR
Remaining Control WAR
Matt Kemp 5 0.7
Tim Federowicz 5 0
Total 10 0.7
Baseball Reference

Yikes. I don’t include the salaries in these things anymore because I am firmly of the belief that teams make too much money to have bad contracts impact further spending, but I absolutely can’t deny that getting so little production from Kemp given what he was being paid is a bad thing. To make matters worse, Derek Norris didn’t work out either. He was quite good during his first year in San Diego, but then he forgot how to hit in 2016.

Preller’s attempt to construct a competitive team so quickly was a valiant one, but this is just one example of how it didn’t work out. We’ll take a look at another example, the Wil Myers, trade next week.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.