The Atlanta Braves pulled off another unusual and possibly unbalanced trade in their favor on Saturday when they acquired outfielder Matt Kemp from the San Diego Padres in exchange for disgraced outfielder Hector Olivera. The genesis of the trade is a bad-contract swap for both teams. The Padres were apparently eager to clear an outfield spot for some of their talented prospects, and they wanted to move Kemp to create that spot for whatever savings they get.
The Braves were extremely eager to cut Olivera loose before his suspension for domestic violence expired next week. They didn’t want the distraction of that possible conviction hanging over him, or the bad press that it would bring as they open their new park next year. Understanding that the Braves never wanted Olivera to play another game for them, gives us a starting place to begin to understand this trade from the Braves perspective.
The money component is big in this trade, as San Diego is sending $10.5 million to Atlanta to help offset some of Kemp’s salary. In addition to that, the Padres will end up owing Olivera approximately $28.5 million over the next four years, while Atlanta will pay $54 million to Kemp through 2019.
If the Braves had already resigned themselves to cutting Olivera loose no matter what, then the $28.5 million they owed him is essentially a sunk cost. So if we subtract that sunk cost from the portion of Kemp’s salary the Braves are responsible for paying ($54 million), then we arrive at a cost of $25.5 million for three-plus years of Matt Kemp, or about $8.5 million per year.
The Braves consider that a cheap price for a power-hitter they will control for the next three years, as left field will now be one less position they have to use inflated free agent contracts or inflated prospect packages to acquire. While Kemp hasn’t been the MVP-caliber All-Star player he was that led to the big contract he’s currently in the middle of, he is still a solid and consistent performer who can hit for power in the middle of a major league lineup — which is a pretty rare thing.
Consider that the Braves made a play last offseason for free agent Justin Upton, who ended up signing a $22.125 million a year contract through 2021 with the Tigers. Instead the Braves will be getting Kemp at a real cost of $18 million per year through 2019 (or the Olivera-sunk-cost of $8.5 million per year). Consider that Upton has a .688 OPS and -0.4 fWAR this year, while Kemp has a .774 OPS and 0.4 fWAR.
So the Braves were already going to spend big either last offseason or this offseason to acquire a power-hitting left fielder. They had already planned to add a big salary to their payroll for this position. They had decided Olivera’s salary was a sunk cost they were going to have to eat. While Kemp may not be the ideal middle of the order bat — he strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk that much — he gives the Braves a power threat, and is the same age as Olivera was (31) with an actual track record as a proven major league hitter.
From the beginning Olivera seemed to be a bad lottery ticket, as the Braves kept waiting for him to show anything at the plate. Kemp is much more of a known quantity with a higher floor of production as well as a higher ceiling. His .774 OPS would be second on the 2016 Braves behind Freddie Freeman.
This is a good trade for Atlanta, and one in which I again believe they made out better than the other team. Time will tell if Kemp can be any better than average, or if he regresses to some type of BUptonian depth. For now though, the Braves not only made the best of a bad situation, they acquired a good player who should be worth way more than Olivera was ever going to be worth. Another great job by the Coppolella front office.