Braves: Grading the trade for Sean Murphy

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The Braves made their first significant move of the offseason, acquiring Sean Murphy in a three-team deal that saw William Contreras go to Milwaukee and several other prospects head to Oakland. Given the Braves already had three high-quality catchers on the roster — including two All-Stars — to say I was a little befuddled by this move would be an understatement. However, it’s not difficult to understand why the Braves have coveted Murphy, arguably the best catcher in the game today, that is just entering his prime.

The Trade

The Braves get Sean Murphy. 

The Brewers get William Contreras, Justin Yeager, and Joel Payamps

The Athletics get Kyle Muller, Esteury Ruiz, Freddy Tarnok, Royber Salinas, and Manny Piña

Let’s start with the newest member of the Braves. Murphy is 28-years-old and coming off the best season of his young career, in which he recorded 5.1 fWAR. Defensively, there might not be a better catcher in the game. Murphy has an elite pop time, ranking in the 96th percentile of all major leaguers, according to Baseball Savant. He also ranks in the 86th percentile when it comes to pitch framing. Combine him with Travis d’Arnaud, another catcher that is fantastic defensively, and the Braves pitchers are going to love trotting out to the mound every night knowing they have two of the best in the business calling games behind the plate.

Offensively, Murphy is also coming off the best season of his career, hitting .250 and mashing 18 home runs — good for a 122 wRC+, which is 22% above league average. There’s also reason to believe he could improve at the plate as well in Atlanta. As our own Alex Lord pointed out yesterday in an article, Truist Park is a much more hitter-friendly ballpark than the Oakland Coliseum:

Last year, Murphy slashed .226/.319/.383 with 7 homers and a .702 OPS at home. On the road, those numbers rose dramatically — .272/.345/.467 with 11 home runs and an .812 OPS. That is more than a 100-point difference in OPS playing away from the Coliseum, which is notoriously unkind to right-handed batters.

To further that point:

Now, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Murphy will improve offensively with the Braves. We said similar things about Matt Olson, and he produced an average offensive year for his standards. However, in a more hitter-friendly ballpark with better offensive players around him in the order, the makings are there for Murphy to produce at a higher clip offensively than ever before.

Moving on to what the Braves gave up in return. The best player Atlanta parted ways with was William Contreras, who somehow ended up in Milwaukee? I have no idea what Oakland is doing, but they are run by idiots. They are the true losers in this three-way trade.

I’m a massive Wild Bill fan, but I understand selling high on him after just one season. There are reasons to believe he could regress, and acquiring Murphy wasn’t going to happen without moving Contreras. Murphy is an upgrade, but I’m not happy that Bill will be playing the remainder of his career elsewhere. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Contreras continued to rake for the Brewers. Without a doubt, Milwaukee came away the best of anyone in this trade. They gave up next to nothing and, somehow, ended up with an All-Star catcher and a couple of prospect arms. That’s highway robbery.

The Athletics came away with three of the Braves’ best prospect arms and an outfield prospect from the Brewers, Esteury Ruiz. Muller was the top-rated prospect in Atlanta’s organization by most outlets. The move to Oakland should allow him to join the rotation immediately, something I’m not sure would have ever happened with the Braves. Freddy Tarnok could also get a cup of tea in the majors relatively quickly, but the pitcher I’m most upset about losing is Royber Salinas. This guy was a strikeout maestro on the farm and on the rise quickly. He could end up being the best player the Athletics acquired in this trade, even though it might be a little bit before he’s in the majors.

Overall Grade: C-

I think Murphy will fit in well with his new team, but I’m not in love with this move because catcher was already a strength of this team. Only one of Murphy and TDA can be behind the plate at the same time, and neither are world beaters offensively. Sure, the other could fill in as a DH, but I would argue Contreras is better suited than both of them as a designated hitter. The Braves improved, but they currently have two black holes on their roster at shortstop and left field. Making a trade to fill one of those would have made a lot more sense, and it probably wouldn’t have cost as much talent as they just shipped to Oakland and Milwaukee. We will see how Alex Anthopoulos ends the offseason, but if this is the biggest move the Braves make, it will leave me feeling very unsatisfied.

Photo: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire


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