ATLANTA — After a trip to the Winter Meetings didn’t really produce any headlines, the Atlanta Braves certainly made some on Saturday when they hooked up with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a five-player trade that could have a big-time impact on the future of both clubs.

Atlanta dealt left fielder Matt Kemp back to L.A. in exchange for pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, infielder Charlie Culberson and cash considerations.

It’s a truly fascinating deal for both sides. Though this trade involved a host of veterans, it also has a direct effect on Atlanta’s best and brightest prospect.

Ronald Acuña was already on the fast track to SunTrust Park in 2018, but this deal allows him to make his final approach after a spot in the Atlanta outfield was officially opened up. Now the club just has to make a decision on his official arrival date, which could be delayed in order to maintain an extra year of contractual control.

“We expect Ronald Acuña to factor at some point in 2018 and I’m not prepared to say,” said Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos when asked for an ETA on the club’s most highly-touted prospect in recent memory.

“He’s a young player at 19, turning 20 here soon,” Anthopoulos continued. “We expect him to factor in 2018. Whether that’s early, middle, late, I’m not sure. We’ll continue to evaluate it, but we expect Ronald Acuña to be a very good player for a very long time. We’re not going to be overly concerned with how soon or how fast, but when he’s ready to go… we’re going to look to make room for him and certainly a move like this won’t hurt.”

The Braves cleared a path for Acuña as they divested themselves of Kemp’s contract obligation, a $36 million sum which stretched into 2019. They did so by taking on a couple of well-paid veteran starting pitchers and a utility option while also assuming financial responsibility for cutting loose Gonzalez, who was immediately designated for assignment. The Dodgers sent some cash over in the trade, which helps even out the contracts coming to Atlanta.

If that sounds like a lot, well, it certainly is.

With $4.5 million in cash considerations coming over with the four players, the money in this deal is a wash. Anthopoulos acquired players on expiring contracts in order to push his club’s financial obligations ahead to the 2018 payroll. In other words, the money due for Kemp’s 2019 salary is now being used to pay ahead on McCarthy, Kazmir and releasing Gonzalez. Ultimately, the Braves took on some salary for next season in order to add at least one pitcher who should join Atlanta’s starting rotation in McCarthy, though Kazmir’s future is less certain.

The bottom line is that this trade should allow for more flexible spending for the Braves in next year’s stellar free agent market. It will also enable the club to have the necessary capital to pursue other, bigger trade targets in the future as well.

“[Going] through 2019 and [looking] at the rosters, we had a lot of different ideas, concepts and proposals,” said Anthopoulos of the trade talks to move Kemp’s salary. “We talked with a lot of teams about various things with players making some significant money coming back. We explored a lot of things. This is the one that got some traction, so it’s the one that we pursued. Really, being candid, this was the only one that was going to work for us.”

The Braves have only three players on long term contracts beyond 2018, first baseman Freddie Freeman, center fielder Ender Inciarte and starting pitcher Julio Teheran. Adding McCarthy and Kazmir to outfielder Nick Markakis and catchers Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers and the Braves have nearly $50 million worth of contracts set to expire at the close of next season.

McCarthy, 34, made 16 starts for Los Angeles last season and, most importantly, ended the year healthy. Anthopoulos worked in the Dodgers front office for the past two years and said he believes McCarthy is primed to contribute to the Atlanta starting five in 2018.

“We see him being in our rotation,” said Anthopoulos. “He had an intermittent year in L.A. but the stuff was very good. He came back at the end of the year and was on the World Series roster just because of how good he looked, how good stuff was, up to 94 mph. He started throwing a slider that he just added at the end of the year that was really good. Still very good stuff and even early in the year he was on a roll in L.A. when I was there. First few months was really throwing the ball well and then he missed time. Excited about him, think there’s some upside to him.”

Kazmir will turn 34 years old in January and did not pitch in the majors in 2017 because of a hip ailment which affected his velocity. He underwent hip surgery and made a handful of minor league rehab appearances. Anthopoulos said Atlanta will take a look at Kazmir in spring training to determine if he’s in position to help in the rotation as well.

Anthopoulos wanted to find some veteran arms to help bridge the gap to some of Atlanta’s prized pitching prospects, several of which could contribute over the course of the 2018 season, including Max Fried, Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka. The club also wants to leave the door open for those young arms to come in and compete in spring training.

“If a guy like Scott Kazmir can throw the way he’s capable of throwing and the way he’s thrown in the past, even stronger for us in terms of depth,” said Anthopoulous. “We have a lot of young arms. We don’t know that they’re all necessarily going to be able to go 200 innings, perform over 200 innings. We’re going to need that depth.”

“With the other wave behind those [veteran] guys, with the Allards, the Frieds and the Sorokas that are starting to get close, and obviously Fried has already been up, just to have that depth over the course of the year, especially knowing how young we are on the mound, is going to be really important,” said Anthopoulos.

The Braves also added the versatile Charlie Culberson, who has a good glove, should help out off the bench and is capable of playing just about everywhere. The 28-year-old is from nearby Calhoun, Ga., and was a first round draft pick by San Francisco in 2007. Culberson has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Giants, Rockies and Dodgers.

While the club did strengthen its roster in a couple of areas, the biggest move Atlanta made with this deal was clearing a path to the majors for Acuña, the 19-year-old wunderkind who lit the minor leagues on fire as he blazed a trail from A-Ball to Triple-A in 2017. Though he may or may not break camp with the big club for reasons not related to his ability or readiness, Acuña will be the story in spring training. If he puts together a strong showing, Acuña could make for a difficult decision for the Braves, a decision that Anthopoulos said has not been made by any means at this time.

The Dodgers. meanwhile, are setting themselves up to potentially get under the luxury tax threshold of $197 million this season in order to gets their funds in order and spend on the robust 2018 free agent class next winter headlined by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and a host of other All-Stars.

It seems unlikely that their reunion Kemp will be a lasting one, with Los Angeles likely trying to find a way to flip the injury-prone veteran slugger to another club. The American League would offer Kemp a chance to DH, a role which bests suits him at this stage of his career.

The other veteran slugger in this deal was just looking for a route to free agency. Gonzalez agreed to waive his no-trade clause if the Braves would designated him for assignment. He will make about $22 million in 2018 and is now searching for a place to play. Gonzalez missed significant time in 2017 due to injury and the Dodgers are now set at first base with the emergence of rookie of the year Cody Bellinger.

 

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

 

Comments
  1. Paul Lentz says:

    The Braves have A PLETHORA of options regarding what to do with McCarthy and Kazmir! Do we keep them/start them the 1st few months….showcasing them to other teams? Do we try one/both in the bullpen….showcasing them to other teams? Do we keep them AND INSTEAD trade one/both Julio Teheran/Mike Folty? Or do we package/mix and match a veteran/prospects proposed trade in an effort to acquire AN ACE?

    Slow your roll, lol! Stay in your lane, lol! Hold your horses! As I’ve stated ALL ALONG….we simply have TOO MANY QUESTIONS that need answering in 2018…BEFORE we start making moves designed for a playoff push starting in 2019!

    This year..is about giving our PLETHORA of talented pitching prospects (along with Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna) PLENTY of playing time in 2018…..to show us what they have! Kind of hard to fit either/both McCarthy AND Kazmir into a proposed rotation of Teheran, Folty, Gohara, Newcomb and Fried (with Sims as the long relief man/spot starter if someone gets hurt/needs rest in the 1st half of the season….while Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard will be doing their thing in Triple A, gearing up for a possible promotion to Atlanta in the 2nd half IF their Triple A performance warrants it. And of course, we have the likes of Kyle Wright and Tooki Tousiant in Double A….and Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson and Kyle Muller in High Class A. In addition, Patrick Weigel will be coming back from his ACL injury in Triple A by the end of 2018, gearing to be in full force by Opening Day 2019).

    Unless AA changes course, I see him dealing at least one of McCarthy/Kazmir by Opening Day (giving them some starts in Spring Training…to showcase them being able to stay healthy, lol). However, I’d love to see both of them gone by Opening Day! If someone gets hurt, we’ll still have the likes of Kris Medlen, Aaron Blair and Matt Wisler in Triple A to plug in until Soroka and Allard are ready later in 2018. No need to waste a roster spot for veteran pitchers whose only purpose is to take away spots in the rotation from the youngsters!

    As far as The Bullpen….we’re set (no need to find a true closer for 2018…..we’ll get one in The 2018 Free Agent Offseason, when we’ll be positioned to offer Craig Kimbrel $18 mil a year to return to The Braves). In the meantime, we’ll have PLENTY of youngsters to pick from to build a bullpen in 2018 (with an eye on who can excel long term starting in 2019!).

    One idea that AA may be pondering….is to wait until after Spring Training is over (you know, every year, someone/someones always gets hurt pitching-wise. Maybe it would be would be wise to hold onto McCarthy and Kazmir….and see who is healthy on Opening Day 2018. If everyone is…then we trade both of them (shouldnt be that hard). If some are hurt…then the next step depends on who is hurt. If McCarthy and Kazmir both excel, then our return in a trade could be nice.

    At the end of the day…the Matt Kemp Trade was ALL ABOUT giving our young players a chance to SHOW US what we have going into 2019. Also……it clears our payroll for us to be SERIOUS PLAYERS come The 2018 Free Agent Offseason! Dare I say MANNY MACHADO, BRYCE HARPER & Craig Kimbrel will be Braves Opening Day 2019?

    To close…I assume that we’re keeping Nick Markakis and moving him to left field (Ronald Acuna will be playing Right Field..with his blazing speed and rifle arm)!

    Projected 2018 Line-up:

    1. Ozzie Albies…..2nd
    2. Ronald Acuna…RF
    3. Freddie Freeman…1st
    4. Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki…C (righty-lefty balance…DO NOT want Markakis hitting clean-up)
    5. Ender Inciarte….Center
    6. Rio Ruiz/Adonis Garcia…3rd (I’d rather see Johan Carmago be our everyday supersub)
    7. Nick Markakis…..Left
    8. Dansby Swanson….SS (he’s suited to hitting 8th, draws lots of walks/gets the occasional bloop hit….clearing the pitcher’s spot in The National League has value. I’d rather see Dansby focus on that…as well as being a leader who focuses on playing STELLA DEFENSE. The offense will come IF it’s meant to come for him).

    While far from playoff worthy…..it’s somewhat respectable. What I’m more focused on…is how Albies and Acuna WRECK HAVOC at the top of the order/setting the table for Freddie! AA can work on the 4-5-6 spots (3rd base, Left Field and Catcher, long term, lol) in the order by Opening Day 2019! We’ll have THE MONEY…..will AA be able to convince Liberty to go “ALL-IN” in The 2018 Free Agent Offseason?

    Do the math now….on whether $150 mil Braves payroll in 2019..can absorb paying Machado and Harper $35 mil a year long term contracts…as well as Craig Kimbrel $18 mil a year (either 4 or 5 year contract)….for a total of $88 mil combined starting in 2019 (which would, in theory, leave $62 for the other 22 roster spots). Well, when you factor in Freddie Freeman’s $21 mil and Ender Inciarte’s $5 mil 2019 salaries…then that leaves only $36 mil for 20 roster spots (after Machado, Harper, Kimbrel, Freeman and Inciarte).

    However, the remaining non-minimum wage players left are Julio Teheran ($11 mil in 2019)….Mike Folty (3 years of arbitration left after 2018…expected to make around $5-$6 mil in 2019).. Adroys Vizcaino (approximately $5-$6 mil in 2019…Free Agent in 2020)..and Dan Winkler ($1.5-$2 mil in 2019…a FA after 2020). Depending on how those four perform in 2018 (and ESPECIALLY how our PLETHORA of high profile young pitching prospects performs in 2018)…all four could either return OR be traded by The End of The 2018 Season.

    Albies, Acuna, Swanson, Minter, Soroka, Allard, Gohara, Fried, Wright, Newcomb, Lane Adams, Johan Carmago, Lucas Sims, Jose Ramirez and Anyelo Gomez (who we drafted from The Yankees in The Rule 5 Draft….if he stays with The Braves in 2018)….(that’s at least 15 players slated to make The MLB Minimum Opening Day 2019)…which leaves 5 spots to fill (15 times $550k MLB Minimum….equals approximately $8.25 mil)…out the remaining $27.75 mil in remaining salary to fill The approximate hypothetical $150 mil 2019 Team Payroll.

    With Dan Winkler ($1.5-$2 mil in 2019)….along with one more year each (hypothetically speaking) of Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki (same contracts as 2018 for 2019), a combined $7.5 mil. That’s 3 players at a combined cost of $9.5 mil. That’s a total of 23 players for a total of $132.75 mil.

    If I had to make a decision today, I feel that either Teheran or Folty will rise up in 2018 and stake a claim to be THE ACE of this staff going into 2019. My guess…is that it will be Folty. Teheran could…but chances are Sun Trust Field is in his head….and even if he has a decent season, he will probably be traded. Folty’s stuff is simply TOO GOOD to be a mediocre pitcher. Add Folty’s projected $5-$6 mil 2019 salary to the mix…24 players/$138.75 mil total…leaving 1 player left/$11.25 mil left.

    That would leave $11.25 mil to fill out the last reserve player (I’ll leave that up to AA to find…assuming we’d be going into 2019 with a 4 man bench like in 2018…..2019 bench would be Carmago, backup catcher-Flowers/Suzuki, Lane Adams, and AA’s choice).

    Starting 8 would be:

    1. Ozzie Albies…2nd…$550k
    2. Ronald Acuna…RF…$550k
    3. Freddie Freeman…1st…$21 mil
    4. Manny Machado….3rd….$35 mil
    5. Bryce Harper….LF….$35 mil
    6. Flowers/Suzuki..C….combined $7.5 mil
    7. Ender Inciarte…Center…$5 mil
    8. Dansby Swanson…SS….$550k

    Starting 5 Rotation:

    1. Mike Folty….$6 mil
    2. Luiz Gohara…..$550k
    3. Mike Soroka…..$550k
    4. Kolby Allard……$550k
    5. Kyle Wright….$550k (to be honest, we’re going to have Tooki Tousiant, Joey Wentz, Bryce Wilson and Ian Anderson waiting in the wings to make a push by Opening Day 2020, lol…that is how SICK our depth is, lol. Not to mention Patrick Weigel and Kyle Muller, lol).

    Bench

    1. Johan Carmago….$550k
    2. Suzuki/Flowers….$0.00 (already accounted for in the starting lineup)
    3. Lane Adams……..$550k
    4. AA’s choice………(he has $11.25 mil to play with).

    Bullpen

    1. Craig Kimbrel….$18 mil
    2. Dan Winkler…..$2 mil
    3. AJ Minter……..$550k
    4. Sean Newcomb….$550k
    5. Max Fried………$550k
    6. Anyelo Gomez….$550k
    7. Lucas Sims…….$550k
    8.Jose Ramirez…..$550k

    To be honest, a number of those bullpen arms will be interchangeable/rotated between Triple A/The Disabled List/Atlanta throughout the 2019 Season! We’ll have the likes of Akeel Mooris/Jacob Lindgren, Grant Dayton, Josh Ravin, Devan Watts, Corbin Clouse, Josh Graham, Mauricio Cabrera (if he ever gets his act together), Adam McCreery, etc. to slide in when needed!

    Now doesnt that have the makings of A POTENTIAL DEEP PLAYOFF RUN type team? Unless AA went with a really PRICEY bench piece with the $11.25 mil left I ‘gave him’ to spend…..I think I did AN AMAZING JOB ‘spending’ $138.75 mil on this roster!

    Depending on what we’d gotten back from trading Teheran (in this scenario)…as well as Kazmir and McCarthy….we could either have some more Lower Minor League Depth…OR a more valuable bench piece than Culberson, lol!

    To all you who felt that there would be NO WAY for The Braves to spend $150 mil and field a competitive playoff team….NOT ONLY did I do so…but I did so with $11.25 mil LEFT (again, assuming AA didnt go for a PRICEY bench piece..he’s going to have around $10 mil left to ‘play with’ during the season IF a need arises…with the option of increasing the $150 mil payroll to $160 mil or so IF something happens). However, given our depth in The Minors…we’ll be fine pitching-wise. However if a Harper, Machado or Freeman got hurt…then yes, we’d need to make some sort of move to address that for the short team! Barring that….this team is STACKED/LOADED/and more importantly…HELLA YOUNG!

    Your thoughts?

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