The electronic ink wasn’t even dry on Tommy Poe’s post over on the Walk-Off Walk extolling Braves fans not to get too down about the Braves quiet offseason when the Braves made what is likely their biggest move of the offseason.
The #Braves & Dodgers completed a five-player trade today in which the Braves have acquired pitchers Brandon McCarthy & Scott Kazmir, INF Charlie Culberson, 1B Adrian Gonzalez & cash considerations in exchange for OF Matt Kemp. Details: pic.twitter.com/41uyrIFQ5X
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) December 16, 2017
That’s a lot to digest, and fans of both teams were scratching their heads at what seemed to be simply an exchange of bad contracts. Digging a little deeper however shows that this was a canny financial move for both teams.
And make no mistake, this is a trade 95% built on finances. For the Dodgers, this allows them to get under the payroll threshold for paying the MLB luxury tax for the third season in a row. Doing so would have ballooned the Dodgers payroll tax in 2019 to 50%, just as their expiring contracts would open up opportunities to go hard into what should be a talented group of free agents.
For the Braves, the trade front-loads their payroll obligations to Matt Kemp completely into 2018. In short, they are using their payroll space now to clear room for 2019. In fact, the only players the Braves will have under a guaranteed contract going into 2019 will be Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran, and Ender Inciarte, barring any more signings or trades.
In short, this is a mutually beneficial trade designed to position both teams to be players in the 2019 free agent market. However, there were also actual players involved in this trade, not just line items on a spreadsheet. Let’s take a look at those players, and what roles they could play for their new teams (all stats 2017 major league only).
Matt Kemp, OF
Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers
Age: 33 | Bats: R
.276/.318/.463 | 100 wRC+ | 19 HR | 0 SB | 5.8% BB | 21.2% K | -0.5 fWAR
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that moving Matt Kemp should be the Braves top offseason priority. With general manager Alex Anthopoulos saying to whomever would listen that improving team defense would be a priority this offseason, it didn’t take glasses to read between the lines that Kemp had likely already played his last game as an Atlanta Brave.
He’s also likely played his last game as a Los Angeles Dodger. Being a National League team, the same conditions that made Kemp nearly unplayable for Atlanta are also true of Los Angeles. Look for them to try to flip Kemp to an American League team before the start of the season, or to release him.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Traded to the Atlanta Braves
Age: 35 | Bats: L
.242/.287/.355 | 69 wRC+ | 3 HR | 0 SB | 6.3% BB | 17.1% K | -1.1 fWAR
Like Kemp will never don the blues and whites of the Dodgers, Gonzalez will never pull the tomahawk across his chest. The Braves have already announced that they will designate Gonzalez for assignment on Monday, which will make him a free agent. Even if the Braves wanted to keep him, Gonzalez had a complete no-trade clause that he only agreed to waive under the condition that the Braves would release him. His inclusion in the trade was only to free the Dodgers of his salary for this season.
Brandon McCarthy, RHP
Traded to Atlanta Braves
Age: 34 | Throws: R
3.98 ERA | 3.28 FIP | 19 G, 16 GS | 92.2 IP | 2.62 BB/9 | 6.99 K/9 | 2.4 fWAR
Now we come to the player mostly likely to make an actual impact for his new club in 2018. To say that neither the Dodgers nor McCarthy are happy with the pitcher’s production during the 4 year/$48 million contract they agreed to before the 2015 season is probably an understatement. McCarthy has only made 33 regular season and 1 post-season appearance for the Dodgers in the three seasons since he signed. One month into his Dodgers career, McCarthy tore his UCL and required TJ surgery. He returned late in 2016, but hip issues held him to 10 mostly ineffective appearances. In 2017, McCarthy suffered a dislocated left shoulder while lifting weights. Once he returned, he experienced severe blister issues. Despite all this, McCarthy’s 19 appearances, including 16 starts, were the most value he provided the Dodgers, and his 2.4 fWAR would have led all Braves pitchers in 2017. The Dodgers still thought enough of McCarthy that he was included on the World Series roster as a reliever.
McCarthy is a cerebral pitcher who has re-invented himself several times over the course of his career to combat ineffectiveness and injuries. When Anthopoulos indicated during the Winter Meetings that he was open to bringing in another short-term veteran for the starting rotation, he likely already had McCarthy in mind. Personally, I hope the Braves join McCarthy and Mike Foltynewicz at the hip so the younger man can absorb some of the experience of the older; McCarthy’s struggles as a young pitcher very closely mirror Foltynewicz’s.
Scott Kazmir, LHP
Traded to Atlanta Braves
Age: 34 | Throws: R
Did not play in 2017
Kazmir is the biggest wild card in this trade as far as what can be expected for 2018. Kazmir missed all of the 2017 season with arm and hip ailments, and it’s quite possible that this is the end of the baseball journey for the 14-year veteran. During that career, which has been interrupted several times by a myriad of injuries, Kazmir has pitched to a 4.01 ERA/4.01 FIP in nearly 1700 innings. The Braves shouldn’t and aren’t counting on Kazmir to provide anything in 2018, but he will go into camp looking to see if he has anything left in the tank. If so, he could be another veteran option for either the rotation or the bullpen.
Charlie Culberson, IF
Traded to Atlanta Braves
Age: 28 | Bats: R
.154/.267/.231 | 41 wRC+ | 0 HR | 0 SB | 13.3% BB | 26.7% K | -0.1 fWAR
The non-tender of Jace Peterson opened up a spot on the bench for a utility infielder, and Rome, Georgia native Culberson could fill it. Culberson’s calling card is defense, and he rates as an above average defender at all three infield skill positions, which gives him a leg up already on the departed Peterson. Culberson hasn’t hit much at all in any of the parts of the last five seasons he’s spent in the majors, or in the minor leagues for that matter, but he’ll be flashing an NL championship ring in a clubhouse devoid of such hardware, and is a legitimate post-season hero after driving in the tying run and scoring the winning run in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cubs while filling in at shortstop for the injured Corey Seager. Culberson would add a World Series home run to his resume.
In short, this is a trade the likely benefits all parties involved. The Braves and Dodgers readjust their payrolls to benefit their current situations. McCarthy and Kazmir get to try to show they’re healthy ahead of free agency on a team more willing to give them opportunities. Culberson gets to play for his hometown team in a situation where he his more likely to stick in the majors. Even Kemp and Gonzalez make out in this deal; assuming Kemp is cut by the Dodgers he and Gonzalez will get to completely dictate where they will play in 2018.