Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has agreed in principle a two-year contract that buys Kemp out of his first two winters of arbitration eligibility. Terms were not disclosed, but the deal is believed to carry a total guarantee of $10.95 million plus up to $600,000 in additional incentives based on plate appearances.
Kemp will receive $4 million in 2010, believed to be the highest salary on record for a center fielder in his first year of arbitration eligibility. In 2011, he will get a base salary of $6.95 million plus up to $600,000 in bonuses based on his 2010 plate appearances. That could push the total value of the contract to $11.55 million.
The contract will be finalized after Kemp passes a physical examination.
The club also avoided arbitration with right-hander and possible Opening Day starter Chad Billingsley, signing him to a one-year, $3.85 million contract.
Dave Stewart, the agent for both players, confirmed both agreements.
Kemp is part of a core group of promising young players the Dodgers have been nurturing for years and who have collectively blossomed over the past season or two. Kemp had a breakout season in 2009, batting .297 and shattering his previous career highs by slamming 26 homers and driving in 101 runs.
The agreement leaves Kemp, 25, with one more year of arbitration-eligibility following the 2011 season before he potentially becomes eligible for free agency after 2012. It will pay him $4 million in 2010, giving him a raise of almost 700 percent over his 2009 salary of $467,000, while at the same time providing the team with a modest savings. Kemp probably could have gotten up to $4.5 million with a one-year deal.
"The advantage, always, is that you get some security," Stewart said. "You get to put cash in your pocket right now versus waiting for it. This is a significant change in his life with the dollars that he is going to be putting in his pocket."
Billingsley, 25, also a member of that aforementioned group of young players and also in his first year of eligibility, got a raise of almost $3.4 million from last year's $475,000. After a breakout season in 2008 in which he went 16-10 and became the de facto ace of the Dodgers' rotation, Billingsley had a disappointing 2009. Although he again led the team in wins with 12, he went winless in his final seven starts and was 3-7 with a 5.20 ERA during the second half after making his first All-Star team.
Stewart said he might continue to negotiate with Dodgers officials on getting an additional year for Billingsley, buying him out of arbitration next winter as well. But Stewart added that those negotiations won't continue beyond the end of spring training.
"We were trying to get the first part done and see how things go in spring," Stewart said. "My guess is if we do something [additional] with Chad, we'll do it in spring training, [and] it would be a one-year extension."
The agreements leave the Dodgers with six unresolved arbitration cases: relievers Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill, catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney and right fielder Andre Ethier. The club is believed to have discussed multiyear deals with Broxton, Ethier and Loney.
Teams and eligible players are scheduled to exchange salary figures for potential arbitration hearings on Monday, but negotiations with each player can continue right up until the start of each player's hearing, which would be scheduled for sometime during the first two weeks of February.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com