One can debate whether Matt Kemp is the game’s best outfielder, but the truth is the Dodgers pretty much had to make him the game’s highest-paid outfielder to keep him beyond 2012. The eight-year, $160 million contract he reportedly agreed to Monday is tied for the largest ever given to an outfielder.
Manny Ramirez’s late-2000 deal with the Red Sox, worth that same amount, had been the gold standard for outfielders. Technically, though, Kemp won’t be the game’s highest-paid outfielder, at least not right away. Carl Crawford got $142 million for seven years from the Red Sox last winter, giving him an annual salary of $20.29 million. Ryan Braun will make $21 million per year from 2016-20 under the terms of the extension he agreed to in April.
Kemp still has one year of arbitration left, so his deal rates a little better than Crawford’s. The guess is that he would have made around $16 million next year through arbitration, and if that’s the case, he’s selling his first seven free agent years for $144 million.
So, this would seem to rate as a pretty good deal for both sides. Had Kemp turned in another year like his 2011 next season, there’s no doubt that he would have topped this contract in free agency. However, this protects him if he does falter somewhat. And the truth is that he loves playing in L.A. and had no real interest in leaving.
For the Dodgers, any eight-year deal comes with substantial risk. Kemp, though, is just 27 and he’s been exceptionally durable to date. While he’ll probably spend the second half of the deal in an outfield corner, he’s about as safe of a long-term signing as there is in the game.