Here’s why the Atlanta Braves won’t trade Matt Kemp

Another night, another homer. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Having surprised us so often in their personnel moves, the Atlanta Braves have lost the ability to shock. We know they’ll trade (almost) anybody, which means we can (almost) never say never. But here’s one trade that would stump this band:

Shedding Matt Kemp.

The estimable Bob Nightengale of USA Today listed Kemp among 25 MLB players who could soon be moving. (For the record, Kemp was No. 22 in terms of probability.) I’m not sure I’d put him among the 20 most likely Braves to dealt.

Yes, he’s 32. Yes, they’re rebuilding. Yes, they’re paying him $19 million of the $21.75 he’s owed annually, which makes him their second-biggest outlay, Freddie Freeman being the biggest, and Kemp’s contract has 2 2/3 years to run. So yes, Kemp fits the profile of the sort of player the Braves have dumped.

Here’s the difference: Kemp has been really good, and the Braves really like him.

He’s fourth in the majors in batting (.345), ninth in slugging percentage and 12th in OPS. He’s also 12th in FanGraphs’ wRC+ (weighted runs created, as adjusted for ballparks) at 160, which isn’t far from the 168 he mustered in 2011, when he finished second to Ryan Braun in the MVP voting.

One of the few baseball things that defy even advanced analytics is the value of lineup construction. We cannot know for certain what numbers Freeman would have posted had, say, Dansby Swanson been batting one spot after him. We can know this: Freeman’s rise from good hitter to great dovetailed with the arrival of Kemp. “I haven’t had a guy like that hitting behind me since Justin Upton,” Freeman has said.

We can go even further. The Braves were a terrible offensive team for two-thirds of last season. Once Kemp arrived in August, they started hitting like crazy. It’s fair to say that Ender Inciarte’s season-ending leadoff tear wasn’t directly tied to Kemp batting cleanup, but hitting can be contagious. (So can not hitting.)

The Braves haven’t scored as much this season (23rd in the majors in runs) as they did at the shank of last year (sixth-best after the All-Star break), but we always wondered whether that was a blip. And they are eighth in the majors in batting average and seventh in on-base percentage, which means they’re no longer an offensive embarrassment.

Back to Kemp: WAR is a measure that hasn’t lately been kind to him. (For one thing, he doesn’t walk much, and WAR is big on OBP. For another, he’s not a plus baserunner. For yet another, he’s a minus defender.) Last year Kemp hit 35 homers and drove in 108 runs and managed an 0.7 FanGraphs WAR. This year he’s at 1.3, which puts him on pace for 4.1, which wouldn’t just be his best since 2011 (8.3) — it would almost double his previous four seasons combined (2.1).

Kemp was considered damaged goods. He’d declined precipitously as a Dodger and done next to nothing as a Padre. The Braves knew that. They also knew that they wanted to rid themselves of Hector Olivera’s contract and that, apart from Freeman, they had precious few power hitters under contract. They took a chance. They like what they’ve gotten.

Nightengale suggests the Braves would have to assume much of Kemp’s salary to make him trade-able, and that’s not something they’d be eager to do with anyone who has value. Kemp has value. He has had a positive effect on their major-league product and, it would seem, on Freeman, their greatest asset. It would take a Swanson/Inciarte/Blair package to pry Kemp away, and nobody’s apt to make such a deal for a 32-year-old left fielder.

Put simply, Kemp has come to mean more to the Braves than he’s apt to mean to anyone else. There are only three big-league Braves that we can call definite keepers — Freeman, Inciarte and Swanson; Julio Teheran might have slipped from definite to probable — but Kemp, who was traded twice in 19 1/2 months, has come close to rendering himself indispensable here.

Reader Comments 0

43 comments
Jaime Rodarte Mireles
Jaime Rodarte Mireles

As a fan for about 40 yrs. and just like my father about 70 yrs being Dodgers fans. There are 3 trades that I still can get over and consider the worst moves done by the Dodgers. Trading Pedro Martinez to the Expos, Trade Mike Piazza to the Marlins and trading Matt Kemp to the Padres. My father always say's that there were 4 moves that cost the Dodgers in our bias opinions , many titles. The forth being letting Roberto Clemente go to the Pirates for pretty much nothing. So I'd say enjoy Matt while guys have him, doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best in the league. Hater's always bring up stats like W.A.R, O.B.P.S, etc. to try to down grade him a player. But like the great Vin Scully always would say about sabermetric stats when they would want him to use them in his broadcast. Get out of here with all your made up stats...

Prather Rollins
Prather Rollins

I have to chime in again as I can't believe how dumb some of your comments are.  I guess some of you actually think we somehow made a bad trade getting Swanson and Ender.  Swanson is just barely getting started and he's still learning the big leagues, but he has the ability to be a great shortstop or second baseman before it's over with.  Ender speaks for himself.  Anybody whining about trading Alex Wood apparently has no idea what kind of pitcher we need.  He will never be a top 3 pitcher in anyone's lineup and probably not even a top 5.  You probably think Teheran is an ace pitcher.  He would not even be a top 3 on a really good club.  We don't have trouble with our hitting, except for Freddie being hurt.  Our problem lies entirely with our pitching.  We have plenty of prospects, but we have to be patient in bringing them up.  Bring them to soon and it only makes it worse.  We can and we will get the pitching we need in due time.  But if you get rid of great hitters for middle of the road pitching, you are just spinning your wheels.  We are making good progress in building a contender, but it will still be awhile before our pitching catches up.  A hitter of Kemp's quality is not easily attainable and we should be thankful to have him and just watch and enjoy what he brings for now.  The entire team is better because of his being here.

sea8491
sea8491

remember that trade?

Keep John Scheurholz out of the conversation and decision making, good old "John" would be sure to trade matt kemp for a player of the likes of J D Drew?


Prather Rollins
Prather Rollins

I hope they keep Kemp through his contract.  He is a professional hitter and he has his attitude back where it should be and he is enjoying the game again.  His presence has made all the offense better.  It's not often you can get a hitter like him.  Just think what numbers Freeman would have probably put up with Kemp hitting behind him.  He is a much improved fielder this year also as he is in much better condition than last year.  I am 69 years old and love baseball and have been watching the game since I was a youngster.  I know when I see a player who truly makes a difference in the entire team,  and not somebody who just puts up good numbers and plays mostly for themselves.  He is truly an asset to the braves and they would be well served to keep him a few more years.

JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

Kemp must go. He's been great but does not fit long term. We need  young corner outfielders. Bigger picture, Braves must dismiss Coppy and get Dayton Moore back in the fold. The minor league system has some players but might not be as good as advertised. Moore is the guy to bring the most fruit out of what Atlanta has to offer. 

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@JeffCriswell Braves have young corner OF in AA Acuna, a 19 year old who was just called up to AA and is raking the ball. He may be ready as soon as 2018. As much as I like Nick Markakis as a consistent MLB player ,he may be the odd man out at this years trade deadline, may be able to get some bullpen help in a trade for him.

And give it a rest on Dayton Moore , I believe he is under contract with KC until 2020.

chem
chem

Brad... Kemp can't mean more to the Braves than he would to an AL team with a DH.  His defense is terrible but he carries tremendous value to a team in need of offense. At 27, Freeman is merely entering his prime.  

TideDawg
TideDawg

I think you're wrong about Kemp. I believe they will trade him to a contender and get what they want. Kemp's having a great year and has surprised me. I thought when they got him he would be a burden on the team. Color me wrong, he's been great(in the early going) The Braves will trade him because he's on the down side of his career and may wear down and produce little in the second half. The Braves are in bad need of power in the lineup(for the future) The Braves are going to be the Cubs and Houston in the future if they can get some power to develop. They are flush with pitching prospects and need at least 3 starters to develop out of that crop. Next year they won't be looking at old veterans to eat innings they will be going after the prize with some of their young arms.

rgpat
rgpat

I agree with you on keeping Kemp and Inciarte. I would include Phillips also. He can hit and a great fielder as well. Swanson is batting 180 and has lots of errors in field.

Bob_the_Blogger
Bob_the_Blogger

Within the next year, the Braves are going to have to make room for Ronald Acuna. He's hitting the cover off the ball at AA at age 19.  He may get a September call up.  The odd man out will likely be Markakis, not Kemp.  Kemp's contract, age and knees are going to make him hard to trade, regardless of his short term performance.


I'd like to see the Braves sign Phillips next year as a third baseman; he'd be a great upgrade over anything we have.

corvette11
corvette11

I think the Braves should be honored to have Mr. Kemp, he has done everything asked of him he was told last of season to get in shape and he came to spring training looking outstanding and he actually cares for this team and wants to win every game and is not happy when they play poorly.

Thanks Mr. Kemp

AC

Macon Ga

TideDawg
TideDawg

@corvette11 I couldn't agree more, but Kemp is an aging veteran and his down side increases every day. Trade him to a contender and give him a chance to make it to the big show. I think he has earned that right with his play and attitude with the Braves.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

I hope you are right Mark, but with Coppy as Braves GM who really knows for sure. He is always ready to acquire the next can't miss pitching prospect. he has collected several over the past three years, and so far the Braves fans are still waiting.

Matt Wisler ,Rushed to the rotation and now out as a starter, bullpen or AAA.

Aaron Blair, Struggled in Atlanta last year, stuck in AAA

Sean Newcomb ,the prize in the Simmons trade, still having control issues(30 BB in 50 IP) in AAA may get his chance later in 2017.

Max Fried, recovering from Tommy John surgery , struggling with command in AA 5.79 ERA.

Touki Toussaint still struggling in high A ball  1win 6 losses 6.84 ERA

Luis Gohara  may be the sleeper just moved up to AA after starting 3-1 in high A with a 1.18 WHIP.

and for the ones who have come and gone, Tyrell Jenkins, Chris Ellis, John Gant, Rob Whalen, Paco Rodriguez, so long we hardly got to know you.

So forgive me Mr.Bradley if I get a little anxious around the trade deadline, because you never know what shiny object,(pitching prospect) may catch Coppy's eye . And then it begins again, dump the high paid veteran for more "Can't Miss Pitching prospects".

Terpskin
Terpskin

@Buschleaguer That's quite a list of mistakes.  Sad.  And trading Simmons & Wood also made no sense.  I was a huge Gattis fan, a lovable oddball with great power, but not a button-down, systematic Braves type.  Like most Braves fans, I look forward to watching all the players on our last playoff team in future postseasons!

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@Terpskin @Buschleaguer Sorry forgot about Mike Foltynewicz talented kid might become a #3 starter if he continues to improve.Gattis was a gamble behind the plate(health wise) Glad he is in a good situation in Houston, backing up McCann and playing DH.

TideDawg
TideDawg

@Terpskin @Buschleaguer Simmons, Wood, Gattis....all doing well with their new teams. I'm happy for them. Gattis was my favorite. We'll be watching some of them in the World Series.

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

I thought the trade for Kemp was getting us a disinterested player. He came in and showed he is a professional baseball player. This year he's in better shape, feeling healthy, and is setting the tone for his teammates. 


I don't believe in saying never, but short of Anaheim offering Trout or some other outrages value, I'd keep Kemp in left and let him provide stability and competitiveness. He and Freeman provide a great power combination. The holes in the Braves are starting pitching and third. 

ChessMaster
ChessMaster

@TomGaff @ChessMaster I am not ready to make a decision about Dansby. I think he needs to make a full circuit around the majors and adjusts. 


I also wish they had allowed him to focus on baseball instead of promotions. 

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@TomGaff @ChessMaster Everybody jumping off the Swanson Bandwagon, Can't miss rookie of the year ,to bust in less than 70 games. Maybe Paul Janish is available , he is on a AAA bench somewhere.

Gwinforfun
Gwinforfun

So if we continue to trade off our marketable players for prospects, at what point do we get off the perpetual youth hording stage?

nowhereman
nowhereman

Keeping Kemp is a no brainer. I always liked him and yes he really got shafted in the MVP voting in 2011, losing to a "user". Andrelton's glove at ss would probably have added 5 wins to the total so far this year. He and Alex Wood should NEVER have been traded during the deconstruction.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@TomGaff @nowhereman Too bad Woody can't stay off the DL , back on again Shoulder stiffness. I doubt Simmons would add 5 wins , maybe 2 or 1. Coppy hopes his Prize Acquisition in the Simmons trade Sean Newcomb, will become a #1 starter and make us all marvel at his trading skills, and say Andrelton Who??? who knows it should be an interesting few weeks heading to the trading deadline in 2017?

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Hell Horsey

You think hockey was a hit in ATL--and you're calling someone else a moron?

Fool.

DamonH
DamonH

"which means they’re no longer an offensive embarrassment"
they just replaced it with pitching and defensive embarassment

TomGaff
TomGaff

I'm not so sure we can keep a slow white guy at SS, who makes a lot of errors on easy outs and his hitting has digressed to below  .200? His throwing is also very suspect? Yes, I'm white also! Perhaps Ruis or Albies might be the answer ??

TomGaff
TomGaff

@Archangel @TomGaff Why is it dumb for a white guy to criticize a white player, he is NOT Getting it done! I would have benched him already!

TomGaff
TomGaff

@ChessMaster @TomGaff He would have wrongly assumed that I was a black guy criticizing a slow white player, with NO arm? That is just the way libbies think! I wanted to clarify in advance before the racists stepped in!

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@TomGaff @Archangel The great thing about Bobby Cox was that he would let young and veteran players play through rough patches. Here we are, barely into his rookie season, when the team is playing for NOTHING, and guys like you want to throw him on the slag heap. And I'm German!


Guess what? Ozzie Smith at short wouldn't make an impact on this team right now. Get a grip.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TomGaff: "Why is it dumb for a white guy to criticize a white player . . . ."

_______________

Why are you dumb enough to think that anyone here cares whether you're white or black?

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@TomGaff @Archangel Slow as in foot speed or S__L__O__W mentally TGaff. Swanson is a rookie who has played less than 300 games professionally(Minors and MLB combined) he has surely struggled this year, moreso since Freeman's injury.

Buschleaguer
Buschleaguer

@TomGaff @ChessMaster No Arm and slow, damn he was a #1 overall draft pick. Damn Tom Gaff you ought to be a MLB scout. So many others missed on this slow footed weak armed SS named Swanson how could so many been so wrong about this guy?

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

It does come down to money, always, with this franchise. If it's all about prospects and loading the farm system and rebuilding, then you eat the salary and grab a few promising young players from a contender at the deadline. He's having a good stretch, but there is zero reason to think that will continue through his contract. Not trading him is exactly the same mistake we made with players like Jurrgens and Hansen.


But you're right. They won't want to spend money to make the right decision.

James B 2324
James B 2324

The ONLY reason he won't be traded:  He's owed $20M a season and you never know when he's going to come in and decide he doesn't want to play for two months.  He's a primadonna that's on a good mental stretch at moment.  It won't continue for three years.


If Atlanta didn't have to eat the bulk of his salary to get rid of him we would, but fact is no team is going to waste $20M on him as a gamble.

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@James B 2324 We make the gamble of $20+million on two players with a combined age of near 90, but not one that could likely bring in multiple prospects with greater upside. Sounds like the Braves.

TomGaff
TomGaff

@James B 2324 Next to Freddie, he is playing the best of anyone on the team! I say keep him, and have two bonifide starts on your team. We can not keep getting prospects and expecting them to be able to compete with MLB type players!

FineousMcDirtyBird
FineousMcDirtyBird

@TomGaff @James B 2324 Stars or starts, his numbers right now do not reflect the average of his most recent seasons which have marked an overall decline. His bat will not speed up into his thirties. He will not be as valuable a year from now or two years from now. And all you get for that "star" power is a good hitter on a sub-.500 team.


You keep Freddy because he still has his prime left. You trade Kemp while he still has value.