Atlanta Braves outfielder Matt Kemp gives an autograph before a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore
August 02, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) Matt Kemp once believed he'd spend his entire career with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now that he's been traded twice in 19 months, Kemp is just excited somebody still wants him. He debuted Tuesday night for the Atlanta Braves, batting cleanup and playing left field three days after being acquired from San Diego.

''I never, ever thought I was going to be traded,'' Kemp said before the game. ''I always thought I was going to be with the Dodgers.''

Kemp wrote Monday for The Players' Tribune that the Braves were his favorite team as a kid. He mentioned some of the rocky times he had with the Dodgers, when his attitude suffered.

Speaking with several reporters before Tuesday's game, Kemp indicated that he wanted to pre-empt notions that he's not a team player.

''It's stuff that's out there, not all stuff that I agree with,'' he said. ''I don't want people here to wonder about me as a person. I'm here to be a good teammate and to help lead these guys in the right direction. I'm excited about this new journey.''

The Braves traded troubled outfielder Hector Olivera for $10.5 million and Kemp, who is earning $21.5 million this season and will make the same salary in each of the next three years.

Kemp received loud cheers, with several hundred fans giving him a standing ovation, as he was introduced before his first at-bat in the first inning. He flied out.

Kemp met with interim manager Brian Snitker a few hours before the game. Snitker wanted to assure his new slugger that the Braves are excited to have him under contract through the 2019 season.

Atlanta has the worst overall record and the worst home mark in the major leagues.

Ticket sales have plummeted. The team's marketing department offered a three-night special through Thursday - two outfield tickets for $7. Kemp's jersey number is 27.

Under president of baseball operations John Hart and general manager John Coppolella, the franchise started a major rebuilding project about the same time the Dodgers dealt Kemp to San Diego before the 2015 season.

In recent years, the Braves have traded Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Andrelton Simmons, Melvin Upton Jr. and Shelby Miller, and let Brian McCann leave as a free agent.

The only everyday player they brought in was right fielder Nick Markakis as a free agent, but the goal was to acquire prospects.

Atlanta is excited about the arrival of shortstop Dansby Swanson, a former No. 1 overall draft pick acquired in the Miller deal, second baseman Ozzie Albies and several young pitchers as it moves into a new ballpark a few miles north of Turner Field next year.

Getting Kemp makes the team feel more legitimate.

''It's like we told him - `We're trying to do something big here. We're in the infancy stages of it and we really want you to be a part of it,''' Snitker said. ''I think he can be.''

Snitker batted Kemp between first baseman Freddie Freeman and Markakis. That trio might not sound like much to contending teams, but Kemp's arrival is considered a big upgrade for Atlanta, which ranks last in the majors in runs and homers.

''It'll help Nick,'' Snitker said. ''It'll help Freddie. It helps everybody when you get a guy like that, as we've seen over the course of time. When one of those guys gets going, it kind of relaxes everyone else and doesn't make them feel like they have to do too much.''

In 254 games with San Diego, Kemp hit .264 - 28 points lower than his nine-year batting average for the Dodgers - with 46 homers, 169 RBIs and 247 strikeouts.

''It's a beautiful city; it's a beautiful place to be,'' Kemp said of San Diego. ''They treated me well.''

Now, Kemp says he's all-in with the Braves.

''I don't think the East Coast really knows that much about me,'' Kemp said. ''This is my introduction to them and to let them know what I'm willing to do for this organization.''

You May Like