When the Brewers re-extended Ryan Braun for 5 years and $105 million back in April, it was seen as a significant risk for a small-market team to make. After all, the deal doesn’t even start until 2016, and there’s no guarantee that Braun will still be the player he is today by then. Still, as I wrote back when the deal was announced, there’s a chance the deal actually ends up looking like a smart gamble as salaries keep increasing.
As we hit Awards Week in MLB, it’s hard to avoid one more comparison between the NL’s top two contenders for the MVP. That $160 million deal would keep Kemp in Los Angeles through the 2019 season. During that time, Braun will earn $111.5 million. Kemp’s deal averages $20 million a year. Braun’s never pays him more than $19 million a year. Braun’s deal also defers $18 million until the year 2031, and considering the Dodgers’ financial state, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn some of Kemp’s money is deferred, too.
Like Braun’s extension, extending Kemp is just as much a P.R. move for the Dodgers as it is a baseball decision. With all the garbage Dodgers fans have had to put up with over the past year or two with Frank McCourt, they needed something good to happen. Like the Brewers, the Dodgers needed a guy they could point to for the forseeable future as the face of the franchise. They have that now, and like the Braun deal, it makes the locals feel good about the team for awhile. Deal with the ramifications later.
In terms of living up to the deal, there’s a solid chance both Kemp and Braun can live up to their respective extensions. It seems likely that Kemp just turned in a career year — honestly, how many times do you think he’ll approach 40/40? — be he won’t need to duplicate his 2011 numbers every year to be worth the money. FanGraphs had his 2011 value at $39 million, but even his 2009 season would do the trick — he hit .297/.352/.490 that year, and FanGraphs had him at 5.2 WAR, or $23.5 million.
On the surface, Kemp seems like the riskier extension, though. While he was statistically better than Braun in 2011, Braun’s been much more valuable over the course of their careers. Kemp has put up a fWAR of 19.2 in six big league seasons, while Braun has posted a 25.2 fWAR in five seasons. Kemp supporters would argue that a fluky-bad year in terms of UZR (-25.7) harpooned Kemp’s WAR in 2010, but Braun had a similarly bad year at third base (-27.7) to start his career. Braun’s just been consistently better, and on a cheaper deal, seems to be the better bargain.