Monday, August 1, 2016

Braves trade Hector Olivera for Matt Kemp

Imagine yourself about 4 months ago, with Hector Olivera just starting to serve his 82 game game suspension for domestic abuse, and every Braves fan wondering how in the wide world of sports we were going to get out from under his contract. Most of us assumed it would fall on a legal case of some kind, or outright cutting him from the team. Absolutely NOBODY assumed he would get traded.

Now fast forward to today. Hector Olivera is gone to the Padres for a hot second, and they DFA'd him. Why? They made a deal in exchange for the Braves taking on a toxic contract in Matt Kemp. Yes, I refer to these as the Wall Street Cutting Your Losses trades. When you have assets that are no longer performing, sometimes you just have to walk away from those assets and send them back to the market. So you accept that they aren't going to rebound, and you sell them off to another sucker/investor who is betting on small incremental changes to help themselves.

The Padres wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to salvage some part of Kemps $54M remaining salary. The Braves wanted one thing out of this trade, they wanted to get rid of Olivera without DFA'ing him for nothing. Both sides got what they wanted. In the end, we only care about the Braves since this is a Braves blog, and they get Matt Kemp under control for 3 years at approximately $8.5M extra per year.

Now I ask the question, what is that worth? Did we just get a bunch of snake oil in a 31-year old body? If you know anything about me, you know I hate hate hate paying sluggers in their 30s big money to hit homers. Mostly because at some point they stop hitting enough homers to justify their gigantic money-drains on the team. And yet GMs have done it time and again because they never learn. So, with a guy like Kemp, I just have to ask myself if he can produce every year for the remaining 3 years enough to justify essentially a $8.5M contract. If you think of it as a $21.75M contract per year, which it really is, he will NEVER live up to that deal. But we're only concerned with the net expense to the Braves, not the total. That's why the deal works for us.

Right now Matt Kemp is a career .286/.340/.489 hitter. He's hit 228 homers in 11 seasons, and averages about 27 dingers per 162 games. In 2016 so far, he's hit .262/.285/.489 with 23 homers. He's automatically the best home run hitter on the team just by joining the Braves, who have been woeful hitting the long ball. Putting him and Freeman back-to-back in the lineup would provide some immediate protection for Freddie, forcing pitchers to pick their poison if anybody is on base in front of them. That's a good thing for Kemp if he can continue to produce on a slightly reduced pace as he ages.

Hitters that aren't on steroids start to break down around age 32. That's just science. Your body isn't meant to hold up consistently over our 30s unless you're a physical freak. And MLB players are no different. Right now, Kemp is in some form of decline as a hitter, and it will get worse. Kemp is also a defensive nightmare as an outfielder, which takes his WAR levels from respectable to abysmal. You know my feelings on WAR at corner outfield slots though, I don't give a crap about them if you can hit. Kemp can hit. His oWAR levels are 2-4 on average every year, which is all I need. Just don't trip over yourself in left field and we'll work out the rest, Kemp.

What I can't have is a huge dropoff from Kemp offensively, because that's his only value to the team, and the NL doesn't allow a DH. As long at Kemp holds the line at 20+ homers a year, slugs .450+, and keeps the strikeouts below 150 per season to go along with a .300+ on-base percentage? He'll have enough value to the Braves to make this deal worth the time. If he doesn't produce those numbers? It's a bad deal for us, even offloading Olivera, and we'd have been better off just releasing Hector outright. Those are the terms as I see them.

But at minimum the Braves unloaded a team cancer and got back a possible asset in return. I can't fault Coppy for doing that, because it was almost doing the impossible. He traded what some were calling Olivera, "The most untradable player in baseball."

Coppy disagreed. The only untradable player right now in his mind is Julio Teheran. He's said as much time and again.


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