Let’s not make this more complicated than it is. Sure, running a baseball club takes skill, takes strategy and it takes a comprehensive plan.
The Atlanta Braves have the worst record in baseball. The main reason? A lackluster offense. The Braves are last in baseball in runs scored (360 – 3.43 runs per game) and last in home runs (65).
The team with the next most home runs, the San Francisco Giants, has 87. So it’s pretty simple as to why the Braves have struggled at the plate this year. They have no power.
Freddie Freeman (18) is the only player on the Atlanta roster with double-digit home run totals. There are only five players in the Atlanta farm system with double-digit home run totals, and the leaders is Carlos Castro with 12.
So there’s no one with power who could likely make an impact in Atlanta in the near future.
Therefore, the front office likely did something very simple. You can just imagine general manager John Coppolella looking at his assistants and saying, “Look fellas, let’s see who the leaders in home runs are, and which ones of those may be available to us.”
The leader in home runs is Mark Trumbo (30) of Baltimore. Trumbo is a free agent this winter. The Braves will have a lot of money available, so Trumbo could be an interesting option. But he’ll cost a lot of money.
Next is Todd Frazier (29) of the White Sox. He’s a third baseman. The Braves need that. But Frazier is a free agent after the 2017 season. Chicago would likely want a lot for a player who would only be a longer-term rental.
Edwin Encarnacion (28) is next. He’s a pending free agent, but he mainly plays first base when he’s not a designated hitter. Trevor Story (27) is a rookie, and there’s no way Colorado would give him up. The same can be said of Nolan Arenado (26), who is likely one of the most untouchable players in baseball.
Kris Bryant (26) is certainly not going anywhere. Khris Davis (26) of Oakland is definitely an interesting player. Keep him in mind as a trade target. Jay Bruce (26) is a free agent this winter, so that’s one to think about this offseason. He will perhaps cost close to $20 million per season since he is just 30 years old.
Nelson Cruz (25) is mainly a designated hitter for Seattle. Josh Donaldson (25) was traded once, but the Blue Jays aren’t as stupid as the A’s. Adam Duvall (25) has just emerged for the Reds, so it’s unlikely he would be available.
David Ortiz (25) is about to retire. Chris Carter (24), Anthony Rizzo (24) and Mike Napoli (24) are all first basemen, and the Braves don’t need that.
Then there’s Matt Kemp (23). Wait a minute. The Padres have traded a couple of veterans during this season – James Shields, Melvin Upton, Jr., Andrew Cashner. They have Hunter Renfroe and Manny Margot, two young players in Triple-A who are not far away.
Kemp will turn 32 in two months. He’s not the player he once way, when he was one of the best in baseball for the Dodgers. But Kemp has 23 home runs this season – on pace for around 35 this season. He had 23 home runs last year, and Kemp has hit 20 or more home runs in seven seasons.
Kemp is what you would call a slugger. That’s something the Braves don’t have. The Padres seem open to ideas, so maybe they would want to do something crazy – like take on Hector Olivera’s contract in order to still save money.
“Yeah, let me get A.J. Preller on the phone,” Coppy likely told his assistants after the idea floated around for a while.
Now, who knows if it really went like that. But there’s no doubt that looking at the home run leaders in baseball is an easy way to find candidates to target. Kemp made sense. In fact, he made perfect sense.
The Braves never wanted Olivera back in their uniform. It was likely difficult to even see him in a Gwinnett Braves uniform, but there was no way he would be back in Atlanta.
If the Braves had released Olivera, that would have been $28 million as dead money on the books. The Braves have had enough years with dead money on the books. They had to avoid that at all costs.
People scoffed when reports surfaced earlier this year the Braves were shopping Olivera. But the Braves, particularly Coppolella, are creative. They knew it might be a gamble to take on Kemp, but it would be a better gamble than paying Olivera to go away.
Kemp is a right-handed power hitter. He can play either corner outfield spot. The Braves have Nick Markakis in right and Ender Inciarte in center field. Mallex Smith is hurt, and he was the left fielder when he went down. So with Kemp, the Braves now have depth and options.
They could trade Markakis, due $11 million per season for the next two years. They could trade Inciarte, who was coveted by teams when the Braves got him from Arizona last winter. They could even see if Smith had a market, as there may be a team looking for a young speedster.
Markakis could be the best bet to go. An American League team might have interest. Then the Braves could have the great defender, Inciarte, help Kemp in the outfield.
Will Kemp help the lineup for the rest of this season? Sure. The Braves have found a leadoff man in Jace Peterson. He’s hit .289 in that spot in 29 games. Manager Brian Snitker has had Nick Markakis in the cleanup spot for all but one game in July. Markakis has hit .261 (43-165) as the number four hitter this season.
Snitker could split up the two lefties – Freeman and Markakis – and put Kemp as the new cleanup hitter. Kemp has mainly batted third this season for San Diego.
The Braves have to pay Kemp $18.25 million for the next three seasons, and that’s around $8.5 million per year more than what they would have had to pay Olivera to not play. That’s a great deal.
Bruce and Trumbo will want more than three years in free agency and may approach $18.75 million per season. So to get Kemp for only a three-year commitment at that price is much better than investing over $100 million in one of the other players.
The Braves basically purchased Kemp through the 2019 season. They needed a slugger, and they found one without giving up one of their young prospects. The farm system was not touched in this transaction. That’s always good for a rebuilding team to get a potential significant player without giving up a prospect.
So this was yet another great move by Coppolella and the Braves’ front office. They have needed a slugger since trading Justin Upton and Evan Gattis almost two years ago. Kemp is no longer a five-tool player. He has some issues in the field. But Kemp will provide exactly what the Braves needed – power.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at email@example.com.