Braves Transactions: The Matt Kemp Trade

Former Braves outfielder Matt Kemp waves goodbye to Atlanta, and hello to an uncertain future. (Danny Karnik/Associated Press)

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.

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.

RHP Brandon McCarthy. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

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.

IF Charlie Culberson. (Matt Hazlett/Getty Images North America)

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.

And not even mentioned so far? The Braves instantly get better by being able to substitute Matt Kemp in the outfield with #1 prospect Ronald Acuña.

About Andy Harris 134 Articles
Andy Harris has been a baseball fan since seeing the Big Red Machine in 1978 and hardcore baseball fan since reading Bill James's Historical Baseball Abstract in 1990. Andy moved to the Atlanta area in 1991, which turned out to be a pretty good year for the local team.


  1. I’m a Dodger fan an I think this was a GREAT move for the Braves. Turning an unwanted Kemp into 4 players who might contribute and bring leadership to a young Braves team was genius!

    • Thanks for reading!

      Many Braves fans were spoiled by the 1991-2006 era, but I grew up with the late 1970s and 1980s teams. This last few years has been bad, but not like what that was.

      Kemp provided some much needed power to a weak lineup, but I think his body has just broken down on him. I hate it for him, because he was by all accounts a well liked guy, and he did provide some offense for his first half of his stay here. But that contract was just too onerous for a small revenue team to keep and still make improvements.

      While none of the individual pieces are outstanding, they do give the Braves options at positions they were already looking to fill (veteran SP, bullpen arm, and utility infielder). Gonzalez has been DFA already, but he wasn’t a fit anywhere anyway. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys. Ironically, a guy in the Outfield Fly Rule Facebook discussion group several days ago proposed a deal very similar to this, involving some of the same players. His was a little more complex, but it was crazy how close it was.

      This looks like a deal that can be a “win” for both teams.

  2. Just ridding the Braves of the commitment to Kemp in 2019 is a win as far as I’m concerned. Anything else positive that comes from this is gravy.
    I don’t know why, but it blows my mind to see some of the negative comments that have been coming out of this. I had to activate my Facebook for a couple of hours just so that I could see some sensible conversation.

  3. The Braves have A PLETHORA of options regarding what to do with McCarthy and Kazmir! Do we keep them/start them the 1st few months….showcasing them to other teams? Do we try one/both in the bullpen….showcasing them to other teams? Do we keep them AND INSTEAD trade one/both Julio Teheran/Mike Folty? Or do we package/mix and match a veteran/prospects proposed trade in an effort to acquire AN ACE?

    Slow your roll, lol! Stay in your lane, lol! Hold your horses! As I’ve stated ALL ALONG….we simply have TOO MANY QUESTIONS that need answering in 2018…BEFORE we start making moves designed for a playoff push starting in 2019!

    This about giving our PLETHORA of talented pitching prospects (along with Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna) PLENTY of playing time in 2018… show us what they have! Kind of hard to fit either/both McCarthy AND Kazmir into a proposed rotation of Teheran, Folty, Gohara, Newcomb and Fried (with Sims as the long relief man/spot starter if someone gets hurt/needs rest in the 1st half of the season….while Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard will be doing their thing in Triple A, gearing up for a possible promotion to Atlanta in the 2nd half IF their Triple A performance warrants it. And of course, we have the likes of Kyle Wright and Tooki Tousiant in Double A….and Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson and Kyle Muller in High Class A. In addition, Patrick Weigel will be coming back from his ACL injury in Triple A by the end of 2018, gearing to be in full force by Opening Day 2019).

    Unless AA changes course, I see him dealing at least one of McCarthy/Kazmir by Opening Day (giving them some starts in Spring Training…to showcase them being able to stay healthy, lol). However, I’d love to see both of them gone by Opening Day! If someone gets hurt, we’ll still have the likes of Kris Medlen, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler in Triple A to plug in until Soroka and Allard are ready later in 2018. No need to waste a roster spot for veteran pitchers whose only purpose is to take away spots in the rotation from the youngsters!

    As far as The Bullpen….we’re set (no need to find a true closer for 2018…..we’ll get one in The 2018 Free Agent Offseason, when we’ll be positioned to offer Craig Kimbrel $18 mil a year to return to The Braves). In the meantime, we’ll have PLENTY of youngsters to pick from to build a bullpen in 2018 (with an eye on who can excel long term starting in 2019!).

    One idea that AA may be pondering….is to wait until after Spring Training is over (you know, every year, someone/someones always gets hurt pitching-wise. Maybe it would be would be wise to hold onto McCarthy and Kazmir….and see who is healthy on Opening Day 2018. If everyone is…then we trade both of them (shouldnt be that hard). If some are hurt…then the next step depends on who is hurt. If McCarthy and Kazmir both excel, then our return in a trade could be nice.

    At the end of the day…the Matt Kemp Trade was ALL ABOUT giving our young players a chance to SHOW US what we have going into 2019. Also……it clears our payroll for us to be SERIOUS PLAYERS come The 2018 Free Agent Offseason! Dare I say MANNY MACHADO, BRYCE HARPER & Craig Kimbrel will be Braves Opening Day 2019?

    To close…I assume that we’re keeping Nick Markakis and moving him to left field (Ronald Acuna will be playing Right Field..with his blazing speed and rifle arm)!

    Projected 2018 Line-up:

    1. Ozzie Albies…..2nd
    2. Ronald Acuna…RF
    3. Freddie Freeman…1st
    4. Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki…C (righty-lefty balance…DO NOT want Markakis hitting clean-up)
    5. Ender Inciarte….Center
    6. Rio Ruiz/Adonis Garcia…3rd (I’d rather see Johan Carmago be our everyday supersub)
    7. Nick Markakis…..Left
    8. Dansby Swanson….SS (he’s suited to hitting 8th, draws lots of walks/gets the occasional bloop hit….clearing the pitcher’s spot in The National League has value. I’d rather see Dansby focus on that…as well as being a leader who focuses on playing STELLA DEFENSE. The offense will come IF it’s meant to come for him).

    While far from playoff worthy…’s somewhat respectable. What I’m more focused on…is how Albies and Acuna WRECK HAVOC at the top of the order/setting the table for Freddie! AA can work on the 4-5-6 spots (3rd base, Left Field and Catcher, long term, lol) in the order by Opening Day 2019! We’ll have THE MONEY…..will AA be able to convince Liberty to go “ALL-IN” in The 2018 Free Agent Offseason?

    Do the math now….on whether $150 mil Braves payroll in 2019..can absorb paying Machado and Harper $35 mil a year long term contracts…as well as Craig Kimbrel $18 mil a year (either 4 or 5 year contract)….for a total of $88 mil combined starting in 2019 (which would, in theory, leave $62 for the other 22 roster spots). Well, when you factor in Freddie Freeman’s $21 mil and Ender Inciarte’s $5 mil 2019 salaries…then that leaves only $36 mil for 20 roster spots (after Machado, Harper, Kimbrel, Freeman and Inciarte).

    However, the remaining non-minimum wage players left are Julio Teheran ($11 mil in 2019)….Mike Folty (3 years of arbitration left after 2018…expected to make around $5-$6 mil in 2019).. Adroys Vizcaino (approximately $5-$6 mil in 2019…Free Agent in 2020)..and Dan Winkler ($1.5-$2 mil in 2019…a FA after 2020). Depending on how those four perform in 2018 (and ESPECIALLY how our PLETHORA of high profile young pitching prospects performs in 2018)…all four could either return OR be traded by The End of The 2018 Season.

    Albies, Acuna, Swanson, Minter, Soroka, Allard, Gohara, Fried, Wright, Newcomb, Lane Adams, Johan Carmago, Lucas Sims, Jose Ramirez and Anyelo Gomez (who we drafted from The Yankees in The Rule 5 Draft….if he stays with The Braves in 2018)….(that’s at least 15 players slated to make The MLB Minimum Opening Day 2019)…which leaves 5 spots to fill (15 times $550k MLB Minimum….equals approximately $8.25 mil)…out the remaining $27.75 mil in remaining salary to fill The approximate hypothetical $150 mil 2019 Team Payroll.

    With Dan Winkler ($1.5-$2 mil in 2019)….along with one more year each (hypothetically speaking) of Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki (same contracts as 2018 for 2019), a combined $7.5 mil. That’s 3 players at a combined cost of $9.5 mil. That’s a total of 23 players for a total of $132.75 mil.

    If I had to make a decision today, I feel that either Teheran or Folty will rise up in 2018 and stake a claim to be THE ACE of this staff going into 2019. My guess…is that it will be Folty. Teheran could…but chances are Sun Trust Field is in his head….and even if he has a decent season, he will probably be traded. Folty’s stuff is simply TOO GOOD to be a mediocre pitcher. Add Folty’s projected $5-$6 mil 2019 salary to the mix…24 players/$138.75 mil total…leaving 1 player left/$11.25 mil left.

    That would leave $11.25 mil to fill out the last reserve player (I’ll leave that up to AA to find…assuming we’d be going into 2019 with a 4 man bench like in 2018…..2019 bench would be Carmago, backup catcher-Flowers/Suzuki, Lane Adams, and AA’s choice).

    2019 Starting 8 would be:

    1. Ozzie Albies…2nd…$550k
    2. Ronald Acuna…RF…$550k
    3. Freddie Freeman…1st…$21 mil
    4. Manny Machado….3rd….$35 mil
    5. Bryce Harper….LF….$35 mil
    6. Flowers/Suzuki..C….combined $7.5 mil
    7. Ender Inciarte…Center…$5 mil
    8. Dansby Swanson…SS….$550k

    2019 Starting 5 Rotation:

    1. Mike Folty….$6 mil
    2. Luiz Gohara…..$550k
    3. Mike Soroka…..$550k
    4. Kolby Allard……$550k
    5. Kyle Wright….$550k (to be honest, we’re going to have Tooki Tousiant, Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson and Ian Anderson waiting in the wings to make a push by Opening Day 2020, lol…that is how SICK our depth is, lol. Not to mention Patrick Weigel and Kyle Muller, lol).

    2019 Bench

    1. Johan Carmago….$550k
    2. Suzuki/Flowers….$0.00 (already accounted for in the starting lineup)
    3. Lane Adams……..$550k
    4. AA’s choice………(he has $11.25 mil to play with).

    2019 Bullpen

    1. Craig Kimbrel….$18 mil
    2. Dan Winkler…..$2 mil
    3. AJ Minter……..$550k
    4. Sean Newcomb….$550k
    5. Max Fried………$550k
    6. Anyelo Gomez….$550k
    7. Lucas Sims…….$550k
    8.Jose Ramirez…..$550k

    To be honest, a number of those bullpen arms will be interchangeable/rotated between Triple A/The Disabled List/Atlanta throughout the 2019 Season! We’ll have the likes of Akeel Mooris/Jacob Lindgren, Grant Dayton, Josh Ravin, Devan Watts, Corbin Clouse, Josh Graham, Mauricio Cabrera (if he ever gets his act together), Adam McCreery, etc. to slide in when needed!

    Now doesnt that have the makings of A POTENTIAL DEEP PLAYOFF RUN type team? Unless AA went with a really PRICEY bench piece with the $11.25 mil left I ‘gave him’ to spend…..I think I did AN AMAZING JOB ‘spending’ $138.75 mil on this roster!

    Depending on what we’d gotten back from trading Teheran (in this scenario)…as well as Kazmir and McCarthy….we could either have some more Lower Minor League Depth…OR a more valuable bench piece than Culberson, lol!

    To all you who felt that there would be NO WAY for The Braves to spend $150 mil and field a competitive playoff team….NOT ONLY did I do so…but I did so with $11.25 mil LEFT (again, assuming AA didnt go for a PRICEY bench piece..he’s going to have around $10 mil left to ‘play with’ during the season IF a need arises…with the option of increasing the $150 mil payroll to $160 mil or so IF something happens). However, given our depth in The Minors…we’ll be fine pitching-wise. However if a Harper, Machado or Freeman got hurt…then yes, we’d need to make some sort of move to address that for the short team! Barring that….this team is STACKED/LOADED/and more importantly…HELLA YOUNG!

    Your thoughts?

    • My thoughts are that you had a plethora of words!

      I don’t think it likely we will sign Harper, Machado, and Kimbrel, but I like where your head is at.

      I would like to see Atlanta lock up some of this young talent after 2018.

      • A lot would have to happen in 2018…for it to make sense for The Braves to invest $88 mil a year to sign the combo of Machado, Harper and Kimbrel.

        1. Albies and Acuna has to develop into The Braves version of Altuve and Correa.
        2. Our PLETHORA of young pitching has to continue developing (both in Atlanta and in The Minors).
        3. Our GM has to convince ownership the wisdom of increasing The 2019 Payroll to the $150 mil range.

        If those things happen…then given that we only have Freddie Freeman ($21 mil, a bargain)..Ender Inciarte ($5 mil, another bargain)..and Julio Teheran ($11 mil, a relative bargain for a starting pitcher….who is likely to be a trade target IF our young pitching prospects develop as expected during The 2018 Season) on the books going into 2019 (along with A PLETHORA of pre-arbitration players at The MLB Minimum).

        By 2020 Opening Day, I feel that The Braves Starting 5 will all be making The Minimum:

        1. Mike Soroka
        2. Luiz Gohara
        3. Kyle Wright
        4. Kolby Allard
        5. Joey Wentz/Bryce Wilson/Ian Anderson (all three will start 2018 in High Class A….all three have vast potential….just depends on which one develops without hitting the injury bug).

        That would leave the likes of Sean Newcomb, Tooki Tousiant, Kyle Muller, Patrick Weigel, Max Fried (who I think will end up in an Andrew Miller-like role for The Braves), the 2 who dont make it as The #5 starter…..all on the outside looking in (either in The Braves Bullpen OR as trade bait). That doesnt even include Julio Teheran and Mike Folty…who will end up being traded despite being the top two starting pitchers currently on our staff! That is how SICK our depth is right now!

        While some attrition will occur with injuries/ineffectiveness…..I feel that there is more than enough to develop a top notch rotation/bullpen (there are other names I didnt even mention…who are outside our Top 20 prospects YET would easily make the Top 10 on most teams).

        Having a cheap/controllable pitching staff…frees up payroll to go after offensive power in The Free Agent Market. Despite our pitching riches…I would continue drafting pitching….a team can never have enough pitching!

        I’m still amazed that our new GM, AA, was able to make this trade happen WITHOUT sacrificing any of our prospects!

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