Full disclosure: When the rumor surfaced Saturday, I scoffed. I didn’t think the Atlanta Braves would trade for Matt Kemp because I didn’t think they’d be silly enough to trade for Matt Kemp. But they’ve gone and done it, and I’m forced to admit:
It’s not silly.
Kemp is the kind of player those who track advanced analytics distrust/dismiss. He hits homers, yes, and he drives in runs, but the RBI is seen as a bit of an outdated metric. (It’s agreed that it still means something, but there was a time when baseball folks believed it meant everything.) Kemp has 23 homers and 69 RBIs. He also has an on-base percentage of .285, which is terrible. He has walked 16 times in 431 plate appearances, which is laughable. He’s a defensive minus. His WAR value is 0.2.
(To put that in perspective, Nick Markakis — who has five homers and 51 RBIs — has a WAR value of 0.7.)
Don’t be fooled by Kemp’s back-of-the-baseball-card numbers: He’s not a very good player anymore. He hasn’t had a WAR value of even 2.0 since 2012. But this trade isn’t so much to get Kemp — though the Braves surely like the idea of adding a 23-homer guy to a club that ranks last in the majors in tater trots — as to divest this organization of Hector Olivera, the worst acquisition of John Coppolella’s stewardship.
It will be no great surprise if Kemp doesn’t finish his contract — it runs through 2019 — as a Brave. (My just-updated Braves starting nine for Opening Day 2018 includes Kemp, but only as a placeholder for Ronald Acuna, this organization’s stealth prospect.) Heck, Kemp could be gone by next year’s deadline. His attraction to the Braves is that he’s not the guy who’s about to end an 82-game suspension for domestic violence.
Oh, and about that contract: Kemp is due to make $21.5 million each of the next three seasons. The Padres are paying $3.5 million of that per year, which brings the Braves’ obligation down to $18 million per annum. They were contractually obliged to pay Olivera $28.5 million over the next four seasons. They’ve increased their outlay by $25.5 million, yes, but Olivera was a sunk cost. To their way of thinking, they’ve bought Kemp for $8.5 per year.
That’s not nothing, but in the grand scheme it’s not all that much. Power costs. (The Tigers are paying Justin Upton $132.75 million over six years to hit home runs — which he hasn’t yet done.) And they’re getting a guy who can play — if no longer at an All-Star level — in the majors, which Olivera had yet to show he could. Could the Braves simply have cut Olivera, which the Padres plan to do, and saved themselves $25.5 million? Yes, but they need power in the worst way.
Kemp is a risk, but he’s a more considered risk than Olivera. (That move was always a flier on an unproven product; the Braves were looking for a run-producer on the relative cheap back then, too.) At base, this trade is a higher-profile version of Coppolella’s swapping of bad contracts, to be placed on the same shelf as Chris Johnson for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn.
Kemp probably won’t make the Braves much, if any, better. In that regard, even buying him for essentially $8.5 million per year could be deemed a reach. But I don’t think anyone in the Braves’ organization views him as a long-term answer. (If they do, they’re being fanciful.) His real value is that he makes the disgraced Olivera go away.
I wouldn’t have thought the Braves could trade for Kemp and me not hate it. Doggone if Coppolella hasn’t proved me wrong again. I don’t love, or even like, Kemp as a player. But I don’t hate this trade.