One of the first things new Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos had to do this offseason was find someone to take outfielder Matt Kemp off Atlanta’s hands. It was not an easy task, as Kemp is owed $36 million over the next two seasons.
Anthopoulos only had to call his former bosses with the Dodgers to find a deal. Los Angeles was looking to rid salaries to get under the luxury tax threshold, so Saturday they sent the Braves pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and utility man Charlie Culberson for Kemp.
This deal is basically taking on money now to free up money later. The money that would have been paid to Kemp in 2019 will instead go to the acquired players in 2018. That will free the Braves to have a ton of cash to play with next offseason, when the best free agent crop in years will be available.
Gonzalez will be released so he can find another team. He’s at the end of his career and probably cannot play every day anymore, and the Braves already have a first baseman in Freddie Freeman. Kazmir had a hip issue and missed all of 2018. He may never pitch again.
McCarthy and Culberson are the two who could help the Braves next season. McCarthy will likely be the veteran in the Atlanta rotation. He’s 34 years old and if healthy could eat some innings for the rotation. Also, if the Braves young pitching prospects need to be promoted next summer, McCarthy could become trade bait.
Culberson was born in Rome, Ga., and went to Calhoun High School. He’s a fringe player who can play all four infield spots and left field. Since Atlanta is carrying only four bench players next season, Culberson’s versatility will be needed if he makes the team.
The biggest advantage of this trade is that it gets Kemp out of the way to make room for Ronald Acuna, who most believe is the best prospect in baseball. Acuna turns 20 on Monday, and even at that young age he is expected to make a huge impact in Atlanta next season.
Acuna is an Andruw Jones clone – a potential five-tool player with great speed, great defense and outstanding hitting abilities. As a 19-year-old this past season, Acuna hit .325 with 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 44 stolen bases and had a .374 with three different Braves minor league teams.
How can the Braves improve from a 72-win team in 2017 to a team that could have a winning record in 2018? Well, one way will be Acuna replacing Kemp in left field. Acuna will be a tremendous upgrade defensively in the field, and even at his young age he could do better offensively than what Kemp did last season.
Kemp had to go. His hamstring injury obviously gave him a license to eat more, as his weight ballooned, and Kemp was nowhere near the player he was when he first came over from San Diego in 2016. The Braves did not need Kemp sulking on the bench as he watched someone playing better in his position.
Kemp gave Atlanta a power-hitting presence in the lineup when he first arrived, but he is just not the same player he was when he signed his lucrative contract with the Dodgers. Now, the Dodgers will pay him the rest of what they gave him six years ago.
Anthopoulos did well in his first trade with the Braves. The Braves get a veteran starter, a versatile reserve and a lot of financial flexibility next winter. But it’s the net gain of replacing Kemp with the talented Acuna that will make the Braves better in 2018.
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