When a new general manager takes over, sometimes he sees problems that his predecessor refuses to acknowledge, or at least act on. So here comes Alex Anthopoulos. And there goes Matt Kemp.
Anthopoulos didn’t completely get rid of the economic hangover from Kemp’s contract in a five-player trade with Los Angeles Saturday, he merely made it more palatable. Kemp and the $43 million on the remaining two years of his contract were dealt back to his original team, the Dodgers, for four players.
We’ll get to the financial ramifications of the deal shortly. But here’s who the Braves received:
• First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (35 years old). He immediately was designated for assignment (baseball terminology for drop-kicked). Gonzalez played only 71 games last season because of back issues.
• Pitcher Brandon McCarthy (34). He made 16 starts in 19 appearances (6-4, 3.98) around three stops on the disabled list. He’s in the final year of his contract at $11.5 million.
• Pitcher Scott Kazmir (33). He missed the entire season with a hip injury. He made two minor league starts in September. He’s also entering his last contract year at $17.666 million. How much of that he actually “earns” is another story.
• Utility infielder Charlie Culberson. He could stick on the Braves’ bench. He’ll be on a one-year deal but the Braves have four years of salary control with him.
The Braves also will receive some cash in the deal. The Braves had owed Kemp $36 million of his $43 million total for 2018 and 2019. (The Dodgers already were paying him the other $7 million from a previous trade with San Diego.) The Braves take on more payroll obligations for 2018 but every player in this deal theoretically could be off the books for 2019, giving Anthopoulos flexibility.
Financially, this deal will be close to a wash. But the Dodgers dump three big salaries to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold in 2018 and the Braves open up a corner outfield spot for prospect Ronald Acuna. They also won’t have to worry about the financial anchor of Kemp dragging through two more seasons.
Kemp had some success when the Braves first acquired him from San Diego late in 2016 for the dumpster fire that was Hector Olivera. In the worst trade of the John Coppolella regime, the Braves had acquired Olivera from the Dodgers for young starting pitcher Alex Wood, who went on to become an All-Star last season and went 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA. Olivera was a bust and later was charged with domestic violence (leading to an 82-game suspension).
It was a trade others in the Braves’ organization initially were against but Coppolella was allowed to do it because he was a young GM being given power to build the team the way he saw fit.
Coppolella felt the need to make amends for the Olivera trade. So in a swap of financial mistakes, he dealt Olivera to San Diego for Kemp, who had fallen out of favor with the Padres. Kemp was a more productive player than Olivera for a while but the Braves actually took on more salary (a fact Coppolella and former president of baseball operations John Hart often spun publicly). Kemp was hitting .352 in early June last season but by the end of the season was down to .276 and slowed by a hamstring injury.
There’s also this: Kemp is not a climb-on-my-back kind of guy who you want in the clubhouse when things are going bad. Leadership is not his strength.
The Braves went into the winter looking to deal either Kemp or Nick Markakis to open a spot for Acuna. The fact Anthopoulos could get anything for Kemp, even given the lack of short-term economic recovery, is a plus.
Consider this deal addition by subtraction, even if it’s an overall wash financially.
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