Not to say “I told you guys” but, well, “I told you guys.”
In a deal that was shocking at first glance and downright bizarre, Alex Anthopoulos worked with his old friends in Los Angeles to pull off a mega-deal between the Braves and Dodgers. On one hand, the Dodgers get under the luxury-tax threshold and open up some spots on their roster. On the other hand, the Braves get rid of Matt Kemp.
So, let’s break this one down.
The Atlanta Braves have moved Kemp back to the Dodgers in exchange for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, utility option Charlie Culberson, $4.5M in cash considerations (according to Jon Heyman), and Adrian Gonzalez‘s $22,357,143 salary. Much like the trade that acquired Carlos Quentin a few years ago, the Braves immediately designated Gonzalez for assignment. As you might imagine, there are many sides to this deal and it helps to explain why the Braves were so quiet the last week. Such a trade takes a lot of work to develop.
This trade was not made for 2018. That’s the first thing that stands out, though that’s not entirely true. After all, there is now an open spot for Ronald Acuna and I hear he’s pretty good. However, this trade’s goal is 2019. Gonzalez, who waived his no-trade clause to make this trade happen, was a free agent after 2018. Kazmir will also be a free agent after earning $16 million in 2018. Brandon McCarthy is owed $10M next season with a possible club option should he stay healthy in 2018. Atlanta went from a roughly $18M hit (including the money coming from San Diego) in 2018 to a $48M hit. Currently, that leaves maybe $15M in available funds if next year’s payroll is between $120-$130M as it is expected to be when you include the cash considerations.
Of course, Atlanta could try to open up space by dealing Kazmir or McCarthy, along with Nick Markakis. In each case, they may have to absorb some salary to facilitate a trade. This trade, by the way, is a much bigger and more complicated version of the Nick Swisher/Michael Bourn for Chris Johnson deal. In that trade, Atlanta sacrificed current payroll in order to open up space down the road.
The financials are fascinating about this deal. Still, let’s look at who Atlanta actually acquired in this deal because there is some value here. Brandon McCarthy, a 34-year-old righthander, has rarely been healthy enough to put up big numbers, but last year did have a 2.4 fWAR over 92.2 innings based on a 3.28 FIP. Now, his xFIP and SIERA were higher, but one thing that stands out about McCarthy is an increased weakly-hit rate of contact. Last season, McCarthy brought back his cutter and sinker – two pitches he has used less since his Athletics’ days. By throwing fewer four-seamers, he seemed to get softer contact. Softer contact leads to increased outs. That will be one thing to watch. Conversely, his hard-hit rate went from over 33% the previous four years to 28% in 2017.
However, as I said before, it comes down to health for McCarthy. He stayed healthy in 2014 and reached 200 innings. In the three years that have followed, he has thrown just over 150. You may also see a strikeout rate that declined notably. However, it was well within the range of his better A’s days when he did use more sinkers/cutters. Fewer four-seamers mean fewer strikeouts, but weaker contact for McCarthy. Whatever works, right?
Kazmir will turn 34 in just over a month and like McCarthy, injuries have been a common theme during his career. He missed nearly all of last year before making some rehab appearances in High-A toward the end of the season. Once capable of three consecutive seasons with at least a 3.6 fWAR each year, Kazmir has been all over the map since. One thing that does stand out about 2016 was that he shelved his sinker for the most part despite it being one of his best pitches. In its place, he threw more four-seam fastballs. It’ll be interesting to see if the Braves try to revert Kazmir away from that approach. He’s adopted a cutter and curveball to add to his four-seamer, sinker, changeup, and slider mix.
Both pitchers will get more grounders than flyballs, though neither are true groundball guys. They’ll be happy to come to a Braves team that doesn’t entertain the idea of using Kemp in left field.
Though he’s the one guy in this trade not making eight figures – or even seven – Culberson has the strongest chance of playing with his new team. Out of options, Culberson isn’t a very talented player. He’s managed a triple slash of .229/.269/.321 over 443 major league plate appearances since 2012. In fact, it’s arguable whether he presents any sort of improvement over Jace Peterson. However, as the only current backup option on the 40-man roster for the middle infield, Culberson has the inside track for a spot on next year’s team. Of course, that is subject to change.
Over the next few days, we will tackle more about what this trade means for the Braves this season, the options that are now available, and what this means for 2019 and beyond. Until then, include your thoughts below as to what you think about the trade.