The Colorado Rockies have brought one of the great Rockies killers in recent memory on board, reportedly closing in on inking Matt Kemp to a minor league deal.
Leave it to 2020 to throw another wrinkle at Colorado Rockies fans. Matt Kemp has tortured Colorado’s fan base for years. Now those same fans who dreaded seeing him come to the plate will likely be cheering for him in a shortened season that will be unlike any other before it.
There’s a reason why Kemp was listed as one of the biggest Rockies killers of the past decade, as he has posted a .314/.365/.611 slash line against the Rockies in 178 career games with a .976 OPS. His tOPS+ of 134 is the highest the 35-year-old outfielder has against any National League team.
On Tuesday afternoon in a conference call with the local media (including Rox Pile), Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich acknowledged that Kemp’s success against the Rockies was one of the reasons why Kemp is close to signing a minor league contract with the Rockies. As of press time, the deal was still not yet official. However, Bridich said he expected Kemp to arrive in Denver “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
"“Yeah, we’re well aware of the damage that he’s done against us,” Bridich smiled. “It’s a minor league contract. It is a chance. It’s an opportunity for him. He does not want to see an end to his long career any time soon. He’s very much looking for an opportunity to contribute in whatever way he can contribute.”"
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Entering his 15th MLB season, Kemp spent 10 of those years with the Los Angeles Dodgers and two more with the San Diego Padres, so he’s very familiar with the NL West and Rockies fans have had plenty of chances to see him make an impact at Coors Field.
How big of an impact has he had when he has played in Colorado? Kemp holds a .327/.389/.616 slash line and 1.005 OPS in 375 plate appearances at 20th and Blake. Those numbers alone should make Rockies fans salivate at the thought of Kemp now playing in purple pinstripes.
But what role will Kemp hold with the Rockies, should he make the team? With Ian Desmond announcing in a powerful Instagram post on Monday night that he will be opting out of the 2020 season, the Rockies not only lost a veteran presence in the clubhouse, but also an outfielder who raked against left-handed pitching in 2019. Kemp could pick up the slack against southpaws, thanks to a .314/.373/.538 career slash line against lefties.
While Kemp’s age (and several young, promising Rockies outfielders waiting for their chance to shine) may keep him out of the outfield on many occasions, the National League’s usage of the designated hitter in 2020 could be a perfect fit for Kemp and Colorado.
"“Well, I think the DH is an obvious benefit in terms of his potential place on our Major League roster,” Bridich said. “There’s no doubt about it. That was going to be the case, whether Ian opted in or opted out. It’s a right-handed power bat. He has a sense of the strike zone. We’ve seen it for how many years? He’s very motivated to get back on the field, and to continue his career and play and play well.“It’s too early to tell whether that will be in the outfield or only a DH. We have to let some weeks pass before we can make any sort of decision like that.”"
In his career, Kemp has 83 plate appearances as a DH, logging a .284/.361/.568 slash line.
Of course, there are plenty of questions as well. Kemp played in just 20 games last season after being traded by the Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds. Injuries kept him off the field with the Reds and the New York Mets, who signed him after Cincinnati released him in May.
Miami signed Kemp to a minor league training contract and invitation to spring training in December, but he hit just .143 in 28 at-bats before spring training was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Miami chose to release him and the Rockies made their move.
The move had apparently been in process since last winter, when Bridich said he talked to Kemp about joining the Rockies before he signed with the Marlins.
"“His agent reached out to me when Matt was released by the Marlins,” Bridich said. “We had some good conversations and it seemed like seemed like the right thing to do.”"
Colorado has signed veteran sluggers in the past in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. It worked with Matt Holliday. It didn’t with Ryan Howard.
While the news of Kemp’s signing may have sent shockwaves through the Rockies fan base on Tuesday morning, if the veteran can recapture some of the swings that made him hated in Colorado for so many years, it could revitalize his career while improving Colorado’s offense and chances at a postseason run.