If this were 2011, the Matt Kemp acquisition by the Atlanta Braves would have been a major headline. It’s 2016, so it’s not. The Braves acquired the right-handed, power hitting outfielder on Saturday night and were able to rid themselves of the albatross that is Hector Olivera and his contract. This trade works out well for both sides, as the Padres save money by taking on Olivera’s contract and eating $10.5M of what remains on Kemp’s deal, while the Braves get a player who will come in and instantly supply some power from the right side and some protection for Freddie Freeman. Sure, Kemp’s .288 OBP is beyond pedestrian, but his .489 SLG ranks 24th in the National League. Kemp fill the need of a power bat, and when you consider that Olivera’s contract was deadweight, he’ll only cost the Braves about $8.5M per season. The Braves will be on the hook for about $54M for the remainder of Kemp’s deal. Let’s take a look at why the Kemp acquisition means for the Braves.
Kemp Gives the Braves Power
Currently Freeman leads the Braves with 18 home runs on the season. The next highest is Adonis Garcia with eight, while Jeff Francouer and Tyler Flowers (who is on the disabled list) have seven. Kemp will be able to step right into the Braves lineup and lead the team with 23 home runs. A power hitter from the right side was likely to be addressed this offseason, but the price tags of others available, are going to cost more (in terms of money, prospects and draft picks) to the Braves than what Kemp cost.
The Braves SLG is .356, which is good for the worst in baseball. The team has struggled to score runs and a large part of that is due to the fact that the team has hit 65 all season, which is also last in baseball. If you add in Kemp’s 23, the Braves would have 88 home runs, which would place them in a two-way tie for 29th in the game. That might not sound like a big jump, but the Braves are currently 22 home runs behind the 29th worst team, in terms of home runs, in baseball. With more home runs comes more runs driven in, which would lead to more wins. The Braves still have some more work to do in the offseason, but the acquisition of Kemp helps them make a big step forward to the right direction.
Bye Bye, Olivera
Olivera was never going to play for the Braves again, follow his misdemeanor charge for domestic violence in April. It’s not the Braves way. The fact that they were able to trade his contract and be rid of the distractions is a major plus for this ball club and front office. Olivera played 30 games in the big leagues and racked up 108 plate appearances while slashing .245/.296/.378. Yeah, the club, namely former manager Fredi Gonzalez, swung and missed with trading for the highly touted Cuban, who after just three months in professional baseball had serious questions about his future. Olivera did not offer any plus tools and was moved away from third base, where most of his value was. In the end, Olivera might not play another game in Major League Baseball. If that’s the case, he would have made $2.08M per game.
What About Kemp’s Defense?
Kemp currently sports a .2 WAR in baseball, which is just slightly above a replacement value player. When you factor out his defense, he’s been worth a .9 WAR. That’s not great but it shows you how much his defense has affected his value as a ball player. Kemp’s WAR among right fielders was worth -1.1. That’s right. A replacement value player would be better in right field than Kemp. Thankfully Kemp will move to left field, where the fleetest afoot aren’t known to play and defense isn’t something that many teams worry about. To quote former Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez from January, “Most of the great left fielders you hear about are just good hitters. You don’t care about their defense.” If that’s the case, then Kemp fits the bill. Since June 1st, Kemp is slashing .296/.333/.513 with 10 home runs, 36 RBIs and 59 hits. That would average out to 34 home runs, 122 RBIs and 200 hits over a 162 game season. The offense is still there.
There’s also the possibility of a Mallex Smith and Ender Inciarte tandem in the outfield would also help Kemp defensively, as both Smith and Inciarte are true center fielders who can cover a lot of ground.
Logjam in the Outfield
With Kemp’s acquisition, the Braves find themselves in a bit of a pickle when it comes to the outfield situation. Smith showed that he could be a sparkplug at the top of the batting order, Inciarte has shown how great he can be defensively and has recently shown signs offensively, and Nick Markakis‘ contract runs through 2018. Who is the odd man out? Certainly Kemp and his power would stay. Certainly Smith and Inciarte’s controllability make them appealing to the Braves long term as well.
That leaves Markakis and the $22M he is owed through 2018. Markakis has generated some interest recently, but teams will surely point to his lack of power and declining defense as reasons to pass up on the Braves right fielder. Since June 5th, Markakis is slashing .292/.355/.415 with four home runs in 50 games. Those are more along the averages of what Markakis put up in Baltimore, before coming to Atlanta. Also for what it’s worth, Markakis has put up a .6 WAR for 2016. The problem comes from what to expect in a trade involving Markakis and how much money the Braves would be expected to eat.
If not Markakis, Inciarte has generated trade interest previously, but would the Braves feel comfortable with a Kemp/Smith/Markakis outfield that would leave below average defenders in left and right field? Only time will tell.
Braves Still Have Money to Spend
Kemp’s acquisition ultimately cost the Braves $8.5M, which means the Braves would have about $52M to spend this offseason on free agency, extensions, etc. The Braves were able to get some power, without giving up a lot of money, which is a bargain in modern day free agency. With that $52M the Braves could look to add a catcher, third baseman or starting pitcher this upcoming offseason. Kemp gave the Braves what they need and allowed them enough room in the bank to continue to add more for 2017.