Dodgers, Kemp finalize $160 million, 8-year deal
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers staked their futures together Friday, finalizing a $160 million, eight-year contract that matches the seventh-highest deal in baseball history.
The star center fielder and general manager Ned Colletti each signed the agreement during a news conference at Dodger Stadium, with lame duck owner Frank McCourt looking on.
“This is very special for me,” Kemp said. “It’s a joy to be known as a Dodger.”
It’s the richest agreement in club history, topping pitcher Kevin Brown’s $105 million, seven-year deal before the 1999 season.
Brown proved to be a bust, while Kemp is coming off a career season.
The 27-year-old, a favorite to win the NL MVP award next week, led the league in homers (39) and RBIs (126), while finishing third in batting average at .324 and stealing 40 bases.
“Another eight years in LA. That sounds good. I love this city and the fans,” said Kemp, dressed in a bowtie and three-piece suit, his voice sounding froggy from a cold.
“I definitely want to spend the rest of my career here. I know how unbelievable LA is when you’re winning baseball games.”
Kemp’s agreement trails only the last two contracts of Alex Rodriguez ($275 million and $252 million), and deals for Derek Jeter ($189 million), Joe Mauer ($184 million), Mark Teixeira ($180 million) and CC Sabathia ($161 million) and matches the agreement Manny Ramirez signed with Boston before the 2001 season.
Kemp will receive a $2 million signing bonus payable on April 15, and a $10 million salary next year, of which $2 million is deferred until April 15, 2013.
He will get $20 million in 2013, followed by $21 million in both 2014 and 2015, and $21.5 million in each of the final four years.
“A lot of people tried to put pressure on me this past year and I just rode with it,” Kemp said. “Now it’s something that I love, the pressure.”
Kemp could have become a free agent after the 2012 season, and Colletti said the team wanted to lock up a known commodity with proven numbers.
“He does everything, including playing every day,” the GM said. “In this day and age, finding somebody that’s got power and speed is one of the toughest things to find.”
Kemp’s signing came a day after Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award.
McCourt said one of his priorities when he bought the team in 2004 was to resuscitate the farm system so it would better feed the big league club.
“One of the things the Dodgers were missing was that homegrown talent,” he said.
“What the last couple of days have really demonstrated is that we have a development system that is doing extremely well and producing the types of individuals that can bring consistent winning back for this franchise and sustain that over the long term because that’s what our fans deserve.”
The Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in June, and McCourt has reached agreement with Major League Baseball to sell the franchise by April 30, which would give him the funds to pay his divorce settlement.
“I just want to tell you I’m proud of you,” McCourt said, turning toward Kemp. “You really see that opportunity which a lot of young people don’t do and you seize that opportunity.
“Now it’s time to be that leader that you’re capable of being. I’ll be watching your progress very, very closely and I wish you a tremendous next eight years. Teams need players that are with one organization for their entire career.”
McCourt soon slipped away from the gathering that included Kemp’s parents, Carl and Judy, and other relatives.
“At the beginning I didn’t think I was going to be a pro baseball player,” said Kemp, from Midwest City, Okla. “My dream was to be a pro basketball player in the NBA, but my mom and dad made me stick with it.”
The megadeal completes a turnaround for Kemp in his performance and attitude. In April 2010, Colletti publicly criticized Kemp in what was a low point in their relationship.
“I let him know, ‘Look, if we get your full effort, that’s all we need,”‘ Colletti recalled. “A few weeks after that it took a huge leap forward, and it continues to leap forward. We decided we were better off being together than apart.”
Colletti also is seeking an additional starting pitcher and a veteran infielder for 2012. He said brief trade discussions at the GM meetings went nowhere but could merit more pursuit at next month’s winter meetings or later.
Colletti said talks are ongoing with pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who is a free agent.
“I don’t know whether it’s going to be possible or not,” he said. “Part of it is financial, and part is whether he wants to go back to Japan.”