The Dodgers’ Approach To Matt Kemp

He “was slow to learn to be a professional,” someone who drew the ire of his manager and “infuriate[d] some members of the organization” with his approach. No, we're not talking about Matt Kemp, though similar things have certainly been said about him this season. Various reporters used those words to describe Yunel Escobar before and after the Braves traded him to the Blue Jays last month.

By all accounts Escobar did not fit into Bobby Cox's system. Now, on the other side of the country, Kemp is in a similar situation. Earlier in the week, Joe Torre benched him twice, ostensibly to keep Jay Gibbons in the lineup. That decision probably didn't sit well with Kemp, but it's not what his agent complained to the LA Times about. Dave Stewart, who represents Kemp, suggested that coaches Bob Schaefer and Larry Bowa criticize Kemp unfairly. A trade, Stewart said, might be best for Kemp and the Dodgers.

The Dodgers seem to realize that mid-twenties players who have hit well before will often rebound. Kemp's .777 OPS is less robust than the Dodgers would like and some in the organization have openly questioned his fundamentals, but he still has talent.

Escobar, who was struggling at the plate in Atlanta, has returned to form north of the border if his first 96 trips to the plate are any indication. He has his only three homers of the season as a Blue Jay to go along with a .315/.351/.461 line and strong, sometimes spectacular, defense. 

Just last month, Escobar appeared to be “a negative presence within an otherwise harmonious clubhouse,” a malcontent who wasn't playing fundamentally sound baseball or hitting as well as he should. Braves fans and players may be glad to have the steady Alex Gonzalez at short, but the Blue Jays are surely thrilled to have bought low on a young player with star potential. Plus, the criticisms that followed Escobar earlier in the year have quieted down.

Kemp and Escobar are individuals under different sets of circumstances, so the comparison only goes so far. As the Dodgers know, Kemp has both the talent that made him into an elite player and the tendency to make infuriating mistakes. 

Half of MLBTR voters say the Dodgers should seriously consider trading Kemp, but GM Ned Colletti has the vote that counts. He told the Times that Dodgers are not about to do anything drastic, and have no intention of dealing their center fielder. Kemp will probably continue to make the occasional mental mistake, as Escobar does, but it seems probable that his play will improve and it looks like that improvement will happen in a Dodgers uniform.

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