The baseball world has been quite active with talk about the Atlanta Braves trading six guys for All-Star catcher Sean Murphy from the Oakland Athletics. As good as Murphy is, and he instantly makes the Braves better, that is an awful lot of talent to give up for a single player. What’s especially interesting is that the Braves not only traded catcher William Contreras, but also backup catcher Manny Pina, as well.
While Murphy is clearly a superior defensive catcher and should definitely help the Braves in real-life baseball, I do agree with many of the fantasy baseball people that Will Contreras is actually the much more exciting player here in terms of offense. But, Contreras isn’t going to the A’s. No, he’s going to the Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, this is a three-way trade, ladies and gentlemen.
Apparently, the A’s weren’t actually interested in William Contreras. No, the guy they wanted most was outfielder Esteury Ruiz of the Brewers. Not only did the A’s surrender Murphy, but also reliever Joel Payamps, who was flipped to Milwaukee as part of this very complicated trade. Milwaukee Brewers sent outfielder for reliever Joel Payamps. The Brewers also received one of the Braves pitching prospects, too.
Most baseball pundits believe that the A’s got hosed here. This is despite the fact that they ended up with four players from the Braves in the deal, plus Ruiz from the Brewers. The Braves truly went all in for Murphy, and while they shouldn’t miss any of the six guys they surrendered, that’s a lot of guys they simply didn’t seem to need.
The consensus feeling I get is that the Brewers won this trade and the Braves got better while cleaning up their 40-man roster. But, the A’s cashed in on three years of a great catcher for quantity over quality. Murphy was never likely to be part of their next winning A’s team, especially not in Oakland, as this team is becoming more and more likely to be purchased and moved elsewhere.
But, did the A’s actually lose this trade? I’m not sure that people are giving the A’s any credit for their pickups at all. Sure, content creators are correct to lambast the A’s for not getting enough for the best player in the deal. Heck, if the A’s had gotten Contreras here (who is indeed the younger brother of now Cardinals star catcher Willson Contreras), I don’t think anyone would be mad at the A’s.
Let’s break all this down, one team at a time.
Braves get: Sean Murphy
Braves give up: Catchers William Contreras and Manny Pina, Pitchers Kyle Muller, Freddy Tarnok, Justin Yeager, and Royber Salinas.
Murphy projects to be a 4 WAR catcher in 2023. At 28 years old, he’s entering his prime, and could easily be worth at least another 6.5 WAR over 2024-25. He’s moving out of the second most pitcher-friendly park in MLB to a neutral one in Atlanta. He’s not a free agent until after the 2025 season. Plus, the Braves still have a solid catcher in Travis D’Arnaud to back him up, so Murphy can even rest his legs and DH here and there.
This is also Murphy’s first of three arbitration eligible seasons. The Braves certainly aren’t going to have any trouble paying him, and they even dumped a guy in Manny Pina who is due $4.5 million in 2023 to help cover some of that cost. Heck, Pina is even due a $4 million player option for $4 million in 2024!
Brewers get: William Contreras, Joel Payamps (from A’s), Justin Yeager (from Braves)
Brewers give up: Outfielder Esteury Ruiz
Contreras had a breakout year in 2022, and while he’s definitely not a great defensive catcher at all, his bat is intriguing enough for the Brewers to acquire here. I don’t think the Braves sold high enough on Contreras, honestly. Will’s projected for 2.2 WAR in 2023 according to Steamer, and that’s while being a below-average defender. Yes, Murphy is better than Contreras, but all Milwaukee gave up was Ruiz, who we’ll get to shortly.
The Brewers even got Payamps out of this, who’s probably a scratch replacement level relief pitcher, but he’s been an overall positive in his career, so far. Yeager hasn’t yet pitched above Double-A, but he can throw 98 mph and brings a hard slider, too. Both of these guys are useful arms at the very least.
Now, the big question we need to answer, did the A’s get enough?
A’s get: Infielder/Outfielder Esteury Ruiz, Catcher Manny Pina, Pitchers Kyle Muller, Freddy Tarnok,and Royber Salinas
A’s give up: Catcher Sean Murphy, Relief Pitcher Joel Payamps
The entire crux of this deal seems to revolve around Ruiz. From what most of the people I follow in baseball talk have been saying, most people believe Ruiz will never hit consistently enough to be any more than a blazing fast super-utility player who can pop the occassional home run from off of the bench. Yes, his minor league numbers are absolutely stupid. As FanGraphs has already noted:
“In Double- and Triple-A combined, he hit .332/.447/.526 with 16 homers, 33 doubles and — again, for those in the back — 85 stolen bases.”
They’ve also, however, noted this, as well:
“But if he were likely to hit like that in the majors, he wouldn’t have gotten traded twice in the past five months, once by a team that picked him up for an extremely broken-looking relief pitcher and got a chance to see him in their own system.”
That relief pitcher was none other than Josh Hader. The Brewres gave him a shot; he wasn’t very good in 36 plate appearances and they already have moved on. The question then becomes, did the A’s actually get a future 30 HR / 30 SB threat? Steamer seems to believe that with enough playing time in 2023, Ruiz can at least hit 10 HR and steal 30-plus bases.
Yes, Ruiz’s defense is a question mark, but he’s a great enough athlete that the A’s can move him around if his bat allows him to stick in the starting lineup often enough. His minor league numbers are crazy enough that the A’s have to at least give him a shot. Yes, Christian Pache hasn’t worked out the way Oakland hoped, but Ruiz has shown far more than Pache ever has.
Manny Pina may look like the salary dump piece in this trade, as the Braves essentially get to pay Murphy around the same as what they would’ve had to pay Pina. The 35-year old is a solid defender, although he doesn’t hit much. Even then, Steamer still projects him to be about a league-average catcher in 2023. Being stuck with Pina for two years isn’t a death sentence for the A’s. If anything, this is cost certainty and a guy they know they can trust a pitching staff with; hilariously, Pina spent most of his MLB career with the Brewers.
If we’re to believe the Steamer projections, Ruiz and Pina may already equal the same production as Murphy will for the Braves in 2023. If Ruiz actually becomes what his fans believe he could be, the A’s may not even miss Murphy at all!
Now, yes, Pina could fall off a cliff and Ruiz could be the next Pache and actually become below replacement level. That leaves the three pitchers. Kyle Muller is likely immediately penciled into the 2023 starting rotation for the A’s, and he projects for 1.3 WAR in 2023. Going to an extremely pitcher-friendly park in Oakland, however, likely will make him look better than that. The 25-year old is under team control for quite awhile, so the A’s have at least 5 or 6 seasons to work with him.
Freddy Tarnok projects as a middle relief pitcher right now, projecting for an 8.9 K/9 and a 3.3 BB/9, which would make him at least slightly better than replacement level. The A’s need all the guys they can get to even be just reliable arms in the bullpen, so he’s very likely an Opening Day guy for Oakland.
Royber Salinas, on the other hand, hasn’t yet pitched above High-A ball. But, he strikes out a ton of guys, and while he currently walks the whole world, he has a plus-plus fastball and a plus curveball, with a promising changeup. The A’s can wait on him for two or three years, and even if he just ends up being a useful bullpen piece, this is still a win.
So, let’s be optimistic and give the A’s 1.7 WAR for Pina, 1.7 WAR for Ruiz, 1.3 for Muller, with Tarnok being replacement level. That’s 4.7 WAR for 2023, or a little more than what Murphy projects to give the Braves. The Brewers don’t have an obvious place to play Ruiz anyway, so Contreras easily makes up for whatever Ruiz does most likely. What about 2024? Even if Pina becomes the backup to Shea Langeliers, who’s shaky defensively yet projects to be a league average starter now, the A’s probably still are getting close to what they would’ve gotten out of Murphy out of Pina, Ruiz, and Muller. If Tarnok becomes a solid set-up guy, even better, although he doesn’t even appear on the A’s depth chart right now.
Yes, the A’s likely didn’t get enough here, but there’s another thing to consider that most people aren’t thinking about. The Oakland A’s are in bad shape. They just need to have enough warm bodies who can also play just well enough to stay respectable for a potential sale of the team. The problem is that despite getting three or four useful guys for just one guy, this entire trade hinges on Ruiz becoming at least a league-average regular and Muller to become a consistent and solid mid-rotation pitcher.
Also, the A’s have a terrible track record with trades that would require an entire book to explore. Perhaps they finally get one trade right, and the projections seem to believe the A’s are onto something. But, they could just as well be wrong. In any case, the Brewers won this trade, the Braves did OK, and the A’s are counting on a couple of miracles. They didn’t get enough talent in this trade, and they’re leaning on someone a couple of teams have already given up on (Ruiz) in their quest to cash in on perhaps their last established MLB player in Murphy.