LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Braves have a few needs to fill as they go through the winter and a few pieces they wouldn’t mind moving prior to spring training. Let’s start with the obvious corner outfield conundrum which has been a running storyline since top prospect Ronald Acuña took the minor leagues by storm last season. Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis are both candidates for trade this winter, though both men come with entirely different circumstances attached. Specifically, Kemp’s health, which will be a stumbling block as the club looks to unload as much of the $36 million he is owed over the next two seasons while simultaneously opening a spot for Acuña.
Make no mistake, a high-value return for either is not in the cards. Creating that spot for Acuña is the single most important thing that trading away one of their veteran outfielders will accomplish.
Kemp, 33, came to spring training this year in good shape, but after a hot start he added back the weight he’d lost as hamstring injuries landed him on the disabled list. Kemp’s days in the outfield appear to be numbered, but if healthy his bat could help an American League club looking for some power. That said, Kemp has compiled a total 1.6 fWAR since the beginning of 2013. Chronic leg injuries have diminished his value in the field and on the bases to the point where both are non-existent. He has power, but his on-base skills are limited. It’s unfortunate to see from a guy who was among the best all-around players in baseball about five years ago.
The issue for Atlanta as the seller in this case is two-fold. First of all, Kemp hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Second, finding a club that is willing to take on that $18 million annual salary is going to be a significant challenge. The Braves can shop him around in hopes of attracting a buyer, and could also sweeten the deal by attaching a prospect to help offload more of Kemp’s salary and off-set the risk for the buyer. This is perhaps an all too familiar place for the Braves in recent years, trying to move bad money contracts by attaching other, better talents to the deal (See: Upton, Melvin and Kimbrel, Craig). It’s not an enviable position. There could be a bad contract swap that would benefit Atlanta and another club. If all of that fails, releasing Kemp and/or eating all the money he’s owed is another possibility.
Markakis, 34, has provided the Braves with a decent right field option for the past three seasons. While he is far from an impact player, he has provided a steady presence in the Atlanta lineup – averaging 1.2 fWAR over the last three years – and a valued veteran with workman’s approach to a clubhouse that has constantly been in transition since the start of 2015. Markakis has just one year and $10.5 million remaining on his contract, which should not create any issue when seeking a trade partner. He should be much easier to move if Atlanta chooses to go that route.