"We've got to figure out if it even makes sense to do a multiyear. The club is looking for something, the player is looking for something. Sometimes it's difficult to find a meeting of the minds. In that case, we're fine doing it one year at a time."
Kemp is one of nine Dodgers eligible for arbitration this winter and one of five eligible for the first time in their careers. Traditionally, the Dodgers do not lock up their young players in multiyear deals, preferring to have the player prove his value each season until he reaches the free-agency criteria of six years service time.
Locking up top position players like Kemp, Andre Ethier and James Loney would provide the Dodgers with a degree of cost certainty at a time when the club is watching its payroll carefully.
"We'd be open-minded in the right situation," said general manager Ned Colletti. "It has to make sense for both sides, and that's a thin rope to walk."
The Dodgers have given multiyear deals to young players three times in the past decade -- Paul Lo Duca in 2002 and Eric Gagne and Cesar Izturis in '05 -- all before Colletti took over. Lo Duca was traded during the contract, while Gagne and Izturis suffered serious injuries. Lo Duca and Gagne were later named in the Mitchell Report for performance-enhancing drug use.
Colletti approached Russell Martin two years ago about a multiyear deal, but was rebuffed.
As a backdrop, the Dodgers' history with multiyear contracts is less than stellar. Since 1999, they have spent just short of $1 billion on multiyear contracts. Of the nine most expensive deals, the club traded the player three times to dump salary, while four suffered serious injuries during the term of the contract and one left the club through an escape clause. The other one is Manny Ramirez, who missed 50 games with a drug suspension.
Five current Dodgers are working under multiyear contracts, all negotiated through free agency -- Ramirez, Jamey Carroll, Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal and Hiroki Kuroda.
As for Kemp, he received $467,000 in 2009 and is in line for a huge raise after winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards. The salary-arbitration process relies on both sides providing comparable players to determine a fair salary, and the challenge with Kemp, according to Stewart, is that there are no comparable players in recent years.
Kemp has exceptional center-fielder skills with power, basestealing speed and a solid batting average. Stewart said Carlos Beltran and Andruw Jones are players who have done what Kemp has done this early in his career, but they did it so long ago that inflation makes their salaries incomparable. But Jones' salary leaped 1,000 percent his first time he was arbitration-eligible, putting Kemp's projection somewhere around $4.7 million.
Usually, if a club is willing to risk guaranteed money for multiple years, it expects a discount in return. In effect, signing for the security of multiyears has a player betting against himself. Stewart doesn't sound receptive to a discount for Kemp.
"A lot of times the club is looking for a discount, and if that's what they're looking to do, Matt is on an upward climb; he has no health history," Stewart said. "Everything looks like his career is heading upward. When the time comes, we'll sit and talk seriously about it."
Stewart said the club hasn't mentioned a multiyear deal for Billingsley, and his advice to the righty would be to do a one-year deal. Billingsley earned $475,000 last season, when he was an All-Star.