Atlanta Braves: Breaking down the Sean Murphy trade
By Fred Owens
The Atlanta Braves shocked baseball by swapping last year’s All-Star catcher for one of baseball’s top five backstops as part of a three-team deal.
As Eric wrote yesterday, less than a week after Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters the Braves weren’t in on Sean Murphy, he acquired him as part of a three-team deal with the Brewers. Here’s the final deal in case you missed it.
Last week Derrick Gould reported that the Athletics as the Cardinals for two players off their Major League roster – outfielder Lars Nootbaar and third-place Rookie of the Year finisher Brendan Donovan, plus a Major-League-ready pitching prospect Gordon Graceffo in exchange for Sean Murphy.
That’s an extremely high price, and it took two teams getting together to pay it. Oakland gets:
- Catcher Manny Pina was excess to the Atlanta Braves’ needs but steps into a backup role behind Shea Langeliers,
- LHP Kyle Muller: Muller projects as a back-of-the-rotation pitcher or may end up a power closer,
- RHP Freddy Tarnok: Like Muller, he’s a potential fourth starter who hasn’t quite made the last step.
- Former Milwaukee outfielder Esteury Ruiz is a speedy outfielder and the Brewers’ fifth-ranked prospect after coming over in the Josh Hader trade.
The Brewers were trying to pry Murphy away from Oakland by didn’t have the necessary pieces, Contreras isn’t Murphy behind the plate or standing in the batter’s box, but he’s a constantly improving defender who offers power at the plate packaged with a lot of strikeouts at a price they can afford to pay.
The club also acquired righty relievers Joel Payamps from Oakland and Justin Yeager from the Braves.
At first glance, the trade of Contreras et al. looks excessive, but a closer look doesn’t support that view.
Muller’s pitched well in AAA this year, but his ceiling is as a back-of-the-rotation arm or a power reliever, and Tarnok projects to the same kind of ceiling. Both pitchers were going to find it difficult to break into the rotation.
Murphy is exactly the guy fans wanted when they were clamoring for Realmuto five years back. Fans should love what they get from Murphy.
In 2022 Murphy batted .250/.332/.426/.759 with 18 homers, 37 doubles, and two triples in 612 PA, 537 AB while striking out at 20.3% rate, walking at a 9.2%, posting a .344wOBA and 122 wRC+.
Statcast suggests that there’s more offense to come from Murphy not that he’s not playing his home games in the Grand Canyon Oakland.
"There’s possibly more in there, too, because he’s routinely been hindered by his home park (where he’s hit for 136 fewer points of OPS), and now he’s going from baseball’s worst righty hitter’s park to the 10th-best."
Putting that in context, when he wasn’t playing in a dilapidated football stadium, Murphy batted .271/.343/.465/.808, hit 11 homers, posted a .349 wOBA and 129 wRC+ in 310 PA. The biggest change was apparent in his home/road splits.
(Source: Fangraphs player splits page)
Braves fans should see the kind of production when he plays his home games at Truist Park and most of his road games a long way from the bigger ballparks in the West.
The marvelous Sarah Langs adds more supporting data for that view.
The 2023 season sees the pitch timer and bigger bases (It isn’t a clock, clocks keep time. If your clock counts down, you’re looking at your microwave.) Both enhancements (?) will increase attempts to steal a base, making a catcher who can hold down the running game more valuable.
Murphy is an elite backstop and arguably the best defensive catcher in the game. He’s allowed only three passed balls in 1927 1/3 behind the plate over the last two seasons, and his strong, accurate arm and 1.89-second pop-time allowed him to throw out 31.1% of base stealers in 2022
He’s also an experienced and skillful game-caller who will benefit from being around Travis d’Arnaud and having pitchers who throw strikes.
The $1M reduction in payroll that resulted from the trade is pocket change in the current market, and the prospects that left lacked significant value when looking at trades.
The Braves have 36 players on the 40-man reserve list and a payroll Fangraphs projects at a CBT value of $229,286,667. Barring a rush of blood to the head by a team deciding to take Ozuna and his money, the Braves will become CBT payors for the first time in 2023. The question is, by how much?
Atlanta Braves vacancies affected?
According to Twitter experts, the Atlanta Braves still need a shortstop and a left fielder; who knew? Oh, that’s right, Alex Anthopoulos and any Braves fan not living under a rock.
Those who suggest it wasn’t necessary were told early Monday evening that sometimes trades are made now to protect the team against needs they see coming in the future.
I’ve seen speculation from Keith Law and David O’Brien that the Braves will now trade d’Arnaud to shed his $8M contract. I believe the Braves want to remain below the $253M threshold. The only way of achieving that is by shedding salary, and d’Arnaud’s contract seems the only one the club could move.
I get it, but if the Braves were going to do that, why didn’t they trade d’Arnaud and keep Pina? The Braves might d’Arnaud next off-season, but I expect TDA to get a good portion of the DH ABs this year, so I think he stays.
That’s a wrap
Like everyone else, I expected a player from the Brewers to come to Atlanta, but I understand now why that didn’t happen. The Braves were the team who wanted a player, the Brewers’ participation was necessary to acquire him and didn’t have to give the Braves anything, so they didn’t.
It’s becoming more likely that the Atlanta Braves will sign someone like Andrus rather than Swanson. In that case, I hope they turn to one of the left-field suggestions I wrote about the last week.
The Braves traded lottery tickets for a player who’s a top-five player at his position in the game today and arguably the best. It’s OK to miss Contreras, he’s a fine young man, but Murphy does the same job better. If you wanted Realmuto in 2018, you’ll love Murphy.