Note: this is all pending physicals, so
Follow-up note: physicals complete! Trade official. Update included at the very bottom.
Usually, we’re at least able to focus on the baseball side of things. Even though we all recognize that baseball is a business, we’ve gotten good at ignoring that part, focusing on the more baseball-y parts of player transactions. Business matters some in the Mark Melancon trade, but it seems mostly about the Nationals getting a good closer, and the Pirates getting some longer-term pieces. You know, baseball stuff. We’re all in it for the baseball stuff, after all, because the business part is seldom entertaining.
The Padres and Braves have made a business move. Oh, sure, there’s a baseball side, kind of. The Braves must see something in Matt Kemp, something they didn’t see in Hector Olivera. To help cover some of Kemp’s remaining cost, the Padres are reportedly including $10 – 12 million. It would be possible to look at this and think only about the roster implications. But this is mostly just a money move, and from where I sit, the Padres are coming out ahead.
Hector Olivera is nothing. I mean, Hector Olivera is a person, a person who was suspended on account of misdemeanor assault and battery, but in baseball terms, Hector Olivera is nothing. He’s to be considered a sunk cost, and I’d assume that when this trade becomes official, the Padres will pretty quickly designate Olivera for assignment. Sure, maybe he’ll hit one day. Maybe he could be worth something one day. But he hasn’t performed, he isn’t young, and the assault doesn’t help. Between now and the end of his contract, Olivera is due just a little under $30 million. It’s a dead amount of money.
Between now and the end of his contract, Matt Kemp is due just a little over $60 million, not counting the amount the Dodgers are covering. Matt Kemp is not worth that money. He does, at least, still play, and hit. The Padres are ditching Kemp, and adding Olivera, and just in isolation that would have the Padres shedding a hair over $30 million in future commitments. Fold in the money being exchanged and the Padres are saving something like, I don’t know, $19 million, which means the Braves are adding about $19 million. That’s $19 million for the privilege of playing Matt Kemp.
Kemp remains at least an average hitter. He hasn’t had a two-digit wRC+ since he was a rookie in 2006. He’s hit well of late, and at 31, he’s not young but he’s not super old. Though he doesn’t walk, he does hit for power, and you know how much fans love power hitters. Nothing more valuable than a dinger. You know what the next section is going to be about. Every Matt Kemp article feels the same.
He’s just not good at defense. He doesn’t run anymore, either, and that’s an issue. It’s also not a surprise. But Kemp is a defensive liability, so his overall value is reflected rather cruelly by his WAR. Since the start of last season, he’s been worth less than one combined win above replacement. Don’t love the UZR part of that number? If you use Defensive Runs Saved instead, Kemp doesn’t really look any better. Defensive numbers don’t like him, and while I understand that defensive numbers are far from perfect, they’re intuitively more reliable for outfielders than for infielders. And with outfielders, you can’t try to make up for lousy range with aggressive shifting. Not nearly so much.
When he isn’t hitting, Kemp is bad. Which means that, everything together, Kemp is not good. His recent statistical record isn’t good, and his projections, in turn, also aren’t good. Moving forward, he’s projected to be worth about 0.8 WAR per 600 plate appearances. That’s for the rest of this season. He’s presumably only declining. The Braves are a National League team, so for them, Kemp is an outfielder, what with Freddie Freeman very capably occupying first base. The Braves lineup has arguably needed this sort of offensive support, but not at the expense of more hits falling in.
To be absolutely clear: The Braves aren’t screwing themselves or anything. They’re taking on only about $19 million, and if Kemp were a free agent, he’d sign somewhere for something. But think about some other bat-only free agents. Pedro Alvarez got less than $6 million. Chris Carter got $2.5 million. Neither of those players is an outfielder, but if we’re going to be honest, neither is Matt Kemp. And, oh, Marlon Byrd signed a minor-league contract. I know that Byrd is suspended, but he wasn’t suspended back then. He was a powerful offensive corner outfielder.
I bet the Braves are relieved to be rid of the Olivera headache. As they probably should be. Of course, if they just wanted to be rid of the Olivera headache, they could’ve just dropped him and eaten the money. They didn’t have to make a commitment to Matt Kemp or to anyone else. This move makes a statement that the Braves have no place for a guy like Olivera, but designating him for assignment wouldn’t have been any different, and so this feels needless. In the big picture, it’ll prove relatively minor, but this’ll be an unnecessary expense. It’s not a coincidence multiple teams now have paid to send Matt Kemp away.
There’s nothing real exciting for the Padres. There’s an extra roster opening, and there’s some saved money. This doesn’t directly turn into a prospect to look forward to. If you’re a Padres fan, you might find it a little weird trying to celebrate financial savings for a massive, highly-profitable organization. I’d just assume that, in time, this money will find its way into the system. Maybe it’ll get an international prospect, maybe it’ll get a draft pick, or maybe it’ll get a free agent. If the savings just go into someone’s pocket, that sucks. You have to hope they won’t. A.J. Preller’s going to want that flexibility down the road.
Preller just got himself some future flexibility. The Braves just reduced their own. They’d argue it’s worth it — they’d argue that Matt Kemp is worth it, because, probably, they don’t think his defense is as bad as the numbers say. That’s all the explanation could be. Maybe the Braves are right. I’m not going to pretend there’s no way the Braves aren’t winning this. But just as the Braves didn’t need Hector Olivera, I don’t think the Braves need Matt Kemp. I don’t think he’ll do much of anything for them, and I think most of baseball would agree. It wouldn’t shock me if, a year from now, Matt Kemp were collecting money from three teams he doesn’t play for.
Update: I misinterpreted what was going on earlier — the Padres aren’t sending the Braves additional money. They’re basically just sending the Braves the money the Dodgers have been sending them. So instead of the Braves taking on around $19 million, they’re actually taking on around $30 million. Therefore, the Braves see Kemp as something like a $30-million player. Specifically, it’s $32 million. Pretty much everything in the post still applies; this just makes me like the deal even more for San Diego, and even less for Atlanta. OK.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.