Yankees' next veteran bench signing/'character guy' is staring them in the face

If you Kemp beat 'em, join 'em.
Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros
Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Tony Kemp, currently of the Oakland A's, has long been a thorn in the Yankees' side. So, with an ongoing need for a versatile bench option, shouldn't they pay him to be a thorn in everyone else's?

That's on the field only, of course. Off the diamond, Kemp is a role model, and the type of high-character glue guy the Yankees have rarely targeted in recent years (goodbye, Josh Donaldson!). He was recently nominated as the A's representative in the chase for the Roberto Clemente Award, the league's annual prize for individuals who go above and beyond to engage with their community.

This was Kemp's fourth consecutive nomination.

This offseason, it'll be out with the old (Isiah Kiner-Falefa) and in with the new for the Yankees, who can't rely on "just, uh, cram some rookies in there?" as a bench-building strategy. They've always prized versatility, but haven't always gone out of their way to bring in veteran mentors who can teach an Oswaldo Cabrera type how to play the outfield and infield at the same time.

Kemp, who only cost $3.73 million this past season, has had a down year at the age of 31 (-0.9 bWAR while playing uninspired ball for an empty crowd nightly), and is probably due for a salary decrease next season. The Yankees should allocate between $1.5-2 million towards Kemp and hope for a bounce back year. At the very least, they'll probably get another coach in the dugout (and a lefty batter where there wasn't one previously).

Yankees Free Agent Target: Versatile Tony Kemp

Now, obviously, some of the "Buy Kemp!" evidence is anecdotal. As stated earlier, it certainly feels like he kills the Yankees -- and it's true that, of his 35 career homers, three have come against New York in just 23 total games. In actuality, though, he hits just .189 with a .601 OPS against them. Every hit feels a little more impactful because you can't believe you're being punished by the 5-foot-6 spark plug at the bottom of the lineup. That's the type of mental damage the gnat-worthy Kemp can inflict on opponents, even if he isn't hitting.

But oh, by the way ... it isn't just perception against the Astros, his former team. He really does kill them, hitting .276 with an uncharacteristic .801 OPS and four homers in 51 career games. That could be nice.

The Yankees won't be getting an All-Star or permanent outfield solution if they sign Kemp (...probably), but they will be adding a second baseman/left fielder/center fielder who was born into filling gaps in the outfield/doesn't have to freelance out there. Kiner-Falefa's Year 2 has been preferable to his Year 1, but he and Kemp have similar ceilings. Kemp gets the edge in both price (IKF's making $6 million in 2023 and is probably due for a raise) and experience.

Saying goodbye to IKF will be weirdly painful, considering his minor contributions, but adding Kemp in his place would be a pretty good way to salve that wound and save the clubhouse.