Silly baseball fans! You thought that the beginning of the regular season meant the end of trade season? When will you learn that A.J. Preller can always swing a deal? After acquiring Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, James Shields, and a cast of thousands, Preller has pulled off his latest blockbuster. He's once again imported a big name, but this one might have come at a larger cost than the others.
First, the details, per Kiley McDaniel.
Headed to San Diego:
- RP Craig Kimbrel
- OF Melvin Upton Jr.
- OF Cameron Maybin
- OF Carlos Quentin
- SP Matt Wisler
- OF Jordan Paroubeck
- 41st overall pick in 2015 draft
Let's dive in!
First, the marquee player in the deal: Kimbrel. At this point, his reputation speaks for itself, but I'll still summarize it. He is, and has been for several years, the best relief pitcher in baseball. Since exploding into the show in 2011, he has earned 11.1 WAR (the most among qualified relievers) to go along with 12.0 RA9-WAR (also the most among qualified relievers). While a 2-3 win player might not seem that huge, keep in mind that he doesn't appear that often — for a player that pitches a third of the innings of the typical starter, that much value is splendid.
Nor will the Padres have to worry about Kimbrel walking away in free agency. During last offseason's flurry of extensions, the Braves locked him up through 2017, on a reasonable salary. As the price of a win continues its meteoric rise, San Diego will pay Kimbrel $9 million, $11 million, and $13 million in the next three seasons, respectively. Combine that with a $13 million team option for 2018 (with a $1 million buyout), and you have yourself a fairly team-friendly contract.
But wait. Kimbrel's a reliever — he could melt down at any time, right? To some extent, yes, but he has less risk than many of his contemporaries. He turns 27 in July, meaning he'll stay with the Friars until at least his age-29 season. According to research by Bill Petti and Jeff Zimmerman (go BtBS!), relief pitchers only begin to lose significant velocity at about age 29, so the thing from which Kimbrel's derived his success should stick around. He owns an all-but-immaculate injury record, blemished only by a brief shoulder issue last season, and Russell Carleton has shown that a pitcher's health in the past does a pretty great job of predicting the future thereof. Simply because of the position he plays, he'll always have some downside; as far as bets go, though, you can't find many safer than Kimbrel.
So the Padres got something close to an ace (or the bullpen version of one, at least). They must have sacrificed some legitimate players in return, right? Not particularly — in all likelihood, no one the Braves received will make a significant impact. Quentin played horrendously last year; his ever-poor defense combined with knee injury-weakened offense to make him worth -0.9 wins above replacement. After turning 32 in July, he probably won't improve further from here. Most of the same applies for Maybin: He gets hurt a lot, generally struggles when he sees the field (last seen posting 0.3 WAR in 2014), and turned 28 yesterday. While neither of these men will hamper the Braves for too long, the time that they will could weigh the team down, as they'll earn a combined $15 million in 2015, and at least $9 million beyond that.
The prospects don't offer much to make up for these outfielders' shortcomings. Paroubeck displayed potential in his 2014 minor-league launch, and his swing coach certainly knows a thing or two about the sport, but he won't make an impact on the club for a few years, if at all. Placing on several top prospect lists for 2015, Wisler has a brighter future, and he'll get a tryout in a shallow Braves rotation. If he pitches like he did in AAA last year (5.01 ERA and 5.14 FIP, albeit in a hitter-friendly park and league), he probably won't stick. He can certainly become a quality arm; nevertheless, like Paroubeck, it'll take time for that to occur.
And of course, there's the draft pick, but that doesn't swing this for Atlanta. Matthew Murphy's research with draft picks illustrated that 85% of those picked between 41 and 50 net three WAR for their entire career, with many players never seeing the show. As with the aforementioned prospects, this doesn't mean that the pick won't amount to anything significant — just that the odds are that it won't.
Taken like this, the trade sounds rather one-sided. The Braves give up an elite, team-controlled reliever, and get peanuts in return. Why would they pull the trigger on this deal? In this case, it's not what Atlanta received that makes it worthwhile for them, but what they sent away: Upton.
After a successful career with the Rays, in which he netted 22.4 WAR across seven seasons, Melvin (né B.J.) signed with the Braves in the 2012 offseason. He then proceeded to melt down completely. In the two campaigns since then, he's robbed the squad of 0.3 wins, a mark only topped by five other men. Under contract for three more years and $46.35 million, he possesses very little trade value — unless, of course, his team paired him with a tantalizing asset.
We can encounter a similar situation in Anaheim, where Mike Trout (god among men) plays alongside Albert Pujols (The Untradable One). In November, it prompted Jeff Sullivan to make a crazy proposition:
Would it make sense for the Angels to package Mike Trout and Albert Pujols together for nothing?
A few months later, something similar has transpired. The scale is smaller, to be sure, but the principle remains: Star and high-priced scrub go one way, and very little goes the other way. Something like this happens often in the world of basketball — a team in need of salary-cap relief will ship "expirings" and future draft picks to a rebuilding squad, which gladly accepts — and now it may have begun to pervade baseball as well.
In the end, we have a deal centered around a star, as so many are. Kimbrel will fortify an already-strong Padres bullpen, Paroubeck and Wisler will give Atlanta's beleaguered fan base hope for the years to come, and Upton, Quentin, and Maybin will...exist. The Padres will surely like what Kimbrel brings to their team, and the Braves will definitely love not having Upton on theirs; in that way, I suppose you could call this a win-win.
. . .
An earlier version of this post misstated Quentin and Maybin's combined salaries for 2015 and beyond. They will earn a minimum of $15 million and $9 million, respectively, not $16 million and $12 million, respectively.
All data courtesy of FanGraphs.
Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.