Just imagine the euphoria in the Atlanta Braves’ front office Saturday afternoon when the San Diego Padres said yes. Just imagine how the Braves’ leaders laughed but instead controlled the emotions.
The Padres inexplicably said yes to a trade offer from Atlanta general manager John Coppolella, who has done damage before to teams in the NL West. Just ask the Arizona Diamondbacks how the Shelby Miller trade is working out.
San Diego wanted to save money, so it pretty much sold outfielder Matt Kemp to the Braves. The price for the Padres to do that? Take on Hector Olivera’s contract and pave the way for his exit out of Atlanta.
The Padres saved $30-something million on the deal, so that was their motivation. But wouldn’t they have demanded a prospect back? The Braves pulled this off without giving up anything.
Olivera was set to be dead money. That is, money that would sit on the books for a player who was not going to play. Instead of paying $28 million for Olivera to not play for the next four seasons, the Braves will now pay Kemp $54 million to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Yes, somehow the Braves got a big bat without giving up Julio Teheran. I didn’t think it could happen. I thought Teheran was the key. Instead, it was the last person I would have ever imagined — Olivera, who the Braves wanted to forget about as soon as possible.
Kemp is that slugger the Braves have been looking for since trading Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. Freddie Freeman can hit home runs, but he’s not looked at as a slugger. The Braves needed that home run bat, a player who could come up to the plate at any time and change the game.
Kemp has hit more than 18 or more home runs eight times in his career. He’s on pace for 35 this season. The moment Kemp joined the lineup Tuesday night, it looked better. It’s up to Kemp to make it better.
Now, Freeman has some protection in the lineup. Plus, interim manager Brian Snitker can split up lefty hitters Freeman and Nick Markakis. It’s not a perfect lineup — the shortstop and catchers still can’t hit. But it certainly looks better than it did before the deal.
Kemp is not perfect. He needs to walk more. He has lost his range in the outfield. He’s criticized for his defense. But he still hits home runs. Kemp is a legit power threat.
And here’s the best part. On Monday, Kemp pinned a letter to Braves’ fans. Kemp said he grew up a Braves fan. He then took responsibility for getting a reputation for, in his words, “being selfish, lazy and a bad teammate.”
Then Kemp vowed that the trade had energized him and finished with this promise: “The Matt Kemp of old — the kid who was the first at the park and the last to leave, the kid who would take cuts in the cage till his hands bled, the kid who would literally run through a wall for his teammates, the kid who was playing to win … not for a contract — that’s the kid who’s on his way to Atlanta. And the Braves of old will soon be the Braves of now.”
Forget about a veteran player shrugging his shoulders at the idea of being traded to a team in a full rebuild mode. Kemp is a star player who actually wants to be with the Braves. Who better for the team to turn to for leadership to let young players know the pride they should have in wearing a Braves uniform.
Kemp will make a lot of money the next few years, but somehow the Braves got him for free. They got a slugger and somehow got rid of a headache at the same time. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.