LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers, unlikely to pursue top-tier free agents Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder because the team is for sale, nonetheless are in negotiations on a long-term contract for Matt Kemp that have had "more substance lately," according to a baseball source.
Kemp, a contender for the National League MVP Award who has already won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger, was believed to be seeking a six- or seven-year contract. He just finished a two-year, $11.1 million deal and is eligible for one more arbitration season before free agency. The Dodgers under general manager Ned Colletti have not given a contract beyond Juan Pierre's five-year deal.
Colletti has said that locking up Kemp would be an offseason priority, and the center fielder apparently has been the club's focus, even though Andre Ethier also has one season remaining in arbitration before he's able to be a free agent. Ethier, however, is coming off knee surgery and his soundness is an unknown.
Signing a Pujols or Fielder would add a new, huge salary, while the Dodgers already have Kemp budgeted for a big raise in an anticipated 2012 payroll similar to the $110 million of 2011.
There also is the possible long-term signing of NL Cy Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw, although he poses additional hurdles. Kershaw will be eligible for arbitration for the first time, meaning he remains under club control through 2014. Also, for a long-term deal to make sense to the club, it would need to buy up some of Kershaw's free-agent years. That means it would be at least four years in length and maybe more, raising the risk of injury.
The 27-year-old Kemp, coming off one of the best all-around seasons in club history, last week said he was optimistic a deal could be struck.
"I hope we can work something out," he said. "I don't know what the future holds. But I've told everybody this is where I want to be, in L.A. for years to come. But I can't control anything. It's up to the front office."
Dave Stewart, Kemp's agent and a former Dodgers pitcher, has said he would advise his client to cut off negotiations if no deal is reached by the start of next season.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.