While many people, including me and my family, were sitting down to Easter dinner, the Atlanta Braves were busy trading away one of their most popular players, closer Craig Kimbrel. The shock from this trade was immediate. It was a stunner, and the ongoing reactions (from Twitter) to folks finding out about this deal reflected that shock and awe.
But let the shock wear off, and this trade starts to make sense and look really good for Atlanta. This offseason, once it was obvious the Braves were undergoing a rebuilding year, many baseball analysts wrote that trading away Kimbrel should be a big part of that rebuild. If the Braves were going to put a weakened team on the field in 2015 and 2016 with an eye towards bringing it all together in 2017 for the new stadium, then there might not be a lot of opportunities to get the ball to Kimbrel in the ninth inning. If they weren’t really planning to compete for two years, why should they pay a high premium for the best closer in baseball to save games for a sub-.500 team?
I also hesitate to say this, but it’s got to be in the back of a lot of people’s minds — Kimbrel, with his small stature and max-effort delivery, has got to be at a high risk for future elbow or shoulder problems.
Most baseball analysts thought that the Braves would look to move Kimbrel at this year’s trade deadline, when he might be in the most demand. This trade and the lack of any rumors about it spares Kimbrel the annoyance of having to read about it and comment to the media about it for a month leading up to the deadline. That might have been a more painful process to go through, not only for Kimbrel, but also for the Braves fan base. This was a rip-the-band-aid-off trade in that sense.
The Braves are rebuilding, and they needed to get rid of B.J. Upton and his salary, and they essentially had no use for Craig Kimbrel for two years. From the Padres they get outfielders Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin, pitching prospect Matt Wisler, outfield prospect Jordan Paroubeck and the 41st overall pick in the June draft. The Braves will apparently designate Quentin for assignment, meaning he will never be on the Atlanta roster and the team can try to trade him for ten days, or else he just gets released. His inclusion was simply about salary relief for the Padres, who are taking on a lot more salary for a lot longer. Quentin’s salary is $8 million this year, which is far less than the $45 million owed Upton over the next three years.
Trading Kimbrel for just Wisler, the draft pick, and an outfield prospect would have been a pretty decent trade deadline deal. Add in a good defensive center fielder with speed in Maybin and it’s even better, though Maybin’s star has lost some of its luster the last couple of years because of injuries. Now consider the money being saved, not to mention the outs being saved, by getting rid of Upton. There were not a lot of baseball analysts who thought the Braves would be able to get another team to take B.J. and his salary, but they finally found a sucker, and that alone is a huge win for Atlanta — they tried to attach him to the Justin Upton and Evan Gattis trades without success. Also, in attaching B.J. and his salary to this trade, they don’t seem to have sacrificed a strong return for the real guy they were trading.
So the Braves traded a high-risk pitcher and an outfielder they really didn’t want who was making a lot of money, and in return get a pitcher who likely becomes their top prospect, a center fielder and two more building blocks (Paroubeck and the draft pick) for the future. It sucks to lose the popular Kimbrel, and they will take a PR hit in the short-term, but from a business of baseball perspective this trade is a huge win for the Braves.
I’ll take a look at the new guys in another post (likely tomorrow), and I’ll update the top prospect list to reflect Wisler as (more than likely) the number-1 guy.