In Matt Kemp, Braves Get Some Power, Dump some Baggage

In a swap of players who never quite reached their potential, the Braves pick up Matt Kemp and $10.5 million dollars from San Diego for Hector Olivera, pending physicals.

Who The Braves Received

Matt Kemp’s career was off to a promising start with the Dodgers, with 2011 his breakout year. The 26-year-old hit .324/.399/.586 (168 wRC+) with 39 home runs, finishing 2nd in the MVP voting. He leveraged that into an 8 year, $160 million contract paying him $21.5 million a year through 2019.

Shoulder and ankle surgeries limited his playing time to 106 games in 2012 and 73 games in 2013. The trade to San Diego was nearly derailed by the discovery of arthritis in both hips.

In San Diego, he’s seen his production fall each season. From 2014 through the current season, his OBP has fallen from .346 to .312, to .285 (career OBP is .340). Strongly correlated to this decline is his dropping walk rate, which fell from 8.7% in 2014, to 6.0% in 2015, to the currently Andrelton Simmons -esque 3.7% in 2016. One thing that has held steady is his outfield defense. It has been poor to awful for some time.

On the bright side, Kemp falling short of his once lofty expectations does not completely negate his value. Power covers a multitude of sins, and he still brings that to a Braves lineup in desperate need. His 23 Home Runs, 54 Runs and 69 RBIs all now lead the Braves, and his roughly league average 104 wRC+ and .774 OPS are second behind Freddie Freeman for anyone with at least 200 Plate Appearances (full disclosure, Tyler Flowers has a 110 wRC+ in 198 Plate Appearances). In essence, despite his issues on the field and getting on base, he is now our second best hitter and his strength fills the Braves greatest weakness.

He’s also done well at staying on the field, with 599 plate appearances in 2014 and 648 plate appearances in 2015. His 431 plate appearances this season are only 10 off the Braves leader, who is once again Freddie Freeman.

Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t come with a ton of off the field baggage. This video of him giving a fan with cancer pretty much his entire uniform was a favorite video of mine several years ago:

Who the Braves Gave Up

While Matt Kemp isn’t necessarily the player he was expected to be, he outshines the player the Braves gave up in several ways. After defecting from Cuba, Olivera was brought to the Dodgers with a huge contract and a lot of hype, but he has not lived up to it. After slashing .245/.296/.378 (84 wRC+) in the Majors at the tail end of last season and first few games of this season, people were questioning his ability. He also was not even hitting that well in the minors, with a .238/.264/.333 line in parts of two seasons in AAA.

While it was too early to completely give up on him after only 108 MLB plate appearances, his early season arrest for assaulting a woman after a game on the road in Washington, and subsequent 82 game suspension from baseball, were apparently enough for the Braves to decide it wasn’t worth keeping him on the off chance the 31-year-old could turn it around.

Moving Olivera was not going to be easy. Although owed less than Melvin Upton Jr. at the time he was traded, his long term contract ($28.5 million remaining after this season, running through 2020), off the field issues, and poor performance arguably made him harder to trade.

Kemp is not a perfect solution for the Braves middle of the order struggles, but he has been a much more consistent offensive threat that can fill a serious power need for now. He can do so without the dark cloud of charges stemming from assaulting a woman hanging over his head.

The Money

As far as financials, Kemp is owed $65.25 million through 2019. The Dodgers are picking up $3.5 million a year as part of the trade that sent Kemp to San Diego. The Padres are sending that $10.5M to the Atlanta Braves. That means the Braves will be paying Kemp $54.75 million for three years.  Hector Olivera is due about $28 million for the remainder of his contract. Since they already owed that money for Olivera, the Braves are essentially taking on Matt Kemp for 3 years and $26.75 million.

The Braves are receiving potentially more offense and ridding themselves of a PR headache for about $9 million per year. They get out from under the contract a year sooner (Kemp is signed though 2019, while Olivera was signed through 2020), and it seems clear at this point that the Braves were ready to move on from that trade, with GM John Coppolella recently tweeting:

With the trade for Kemp, it appears the Braves have found a way to do just that while at least temporarily meeting a need for power in the offense. If Kemp does well enough, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Braves try and flip Kemp to an AL team in need of a DH for prospects, but the way the Braves are trading these days, who would?

Note: The San Diego Padres immediately Designated Olivera for assignment.

About Micah Smith 15 Articles
LIttle known fact: during the infamous Outfield Fly ruling, I was doubled over on the floor thinking I was headed to the hospital because I took a bite of a ghost pepper and it was burning a hole through my guts. It was an all around bad day. Moral of the story: Trust people when they say ghost peppers are too hot for you to eat! And record the game in case of emergency. I also have a great family, good job in university research, and love the Braves.

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