Here’s why Matt Kemp deal made sense for Braves

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When it first became apparent Saturday that the Braves and Padres really were seriously discussing an Olivera-for-Kemp trade, my first couple of thoughts were, 1. Has Padres GM A.J. Preller lost his mind?, and 2. Why would the Braves throw more money down the rabbit hole that was the ill-fated three-team, 13-player trade that brought them Hector Olivera in the first place, turning it into an even deeper money pit for Atlanta?

Matt Kemp was the 2011 NL MVP runner-up with the Dodgers. (AP photo)
Matt Kemp was the 2011 NL MVP runner-up with the Dodgers. (AP photo)

But after much consideration of the financial considerations of the deal — finalized Saturday afternoon — and a closer look at Matt Kemp’s performance this season, I’ve come around a bit on this deal. In fact, I actually like it. Now, hear me out.

Trading for Kemp, in and of itself, was not the best move the Braves could have made. Far from it. But to get Kemp while managing to get out from under the black cloud that hung over the organization in the form of the soon-to-be-un-suspended Olivera? Now, that’s where the deal becomes a good one, in my view.

First, consider the stats. Kemp is hitting a modest .262 with a puny .285 OBP in 100 games this season, but he’s got 23 home runs and 69 RBIs – Braves leaders are Freddie Freeman with 18 homers, Nick Markakis with 52 RBIs – and a .489 slugging percentage. Freeman (.514) and Tyler Flowers (.425) are the only Brave slugging as high as .400. And Petco Park in San Diego is a fair park, not a hitter-friendly one.

Then consider Kemp’s recent performance: In his past 12 games he’s hit .320 (16-for-50) with seven homers a .358 OBP and an .800 slugging percentage. In his past 20 games, he’s hit .286 with 13 extra-base hits, 15 RBI and a .607 slugging percentage.

When’s the last time any Brave other than Freeman had a run like that?

Speaking of Freeman, the Braves needed some right-handed power badly, and they especially needed a guy to hit behind Freeman in the cleanup spot. Kemp’s stats vs. left-handed pitchers are far better than any current Brave has produced: He’s hitting .333 with nine homers and a .677 slugging percentage in 93 at-bats vs. lefties, while Freeman (.514) is the only Brave slugging above .425 in at least 35 at-bats vs. lefties.

That’s big, folks.

Now, the other huge part of this deal. The biggest part, actually, in my view.

The Braves got rid of a guy who had entirely underperformed on the field and completely embarrassed the organization off it when he got arrested at the team hotel in April outside D.C. and charged with assault and battery for allegedly beating a woman. There’s not much worse that a player – any player, not just an underperforming player — can do when a team has been preaching about a return to the “Braves Way.”

I thought there was no way, no possible way, that the Braves would get out from under the $28.5 million they still owed Olivera for the 2017-2019 seasons. Figured they’d just decide to eat the money after he played a couple more lackluster-at-best weeks on his minor league rehab assignment, and that we’d never see him again in Atlanta before he was unceremoniously dumped.

Well, I was right about us never seeing him again before he was ousted. But the way it happened, no, that was never something I imagined. It took this special set of circumstances, another team with a huge contract that it wanted to move – San Diego with Kemp’s deal — and no obvious way to move it. For both teams and both GM, this allows them to move on from a deal they wished they’d never made.

The Olivera deal was haunting Braves GM John Coppolella, who has worked tirelessly with John Hart on creative ways to try to rebuild the Braves. That Olivera deal was bad from the beginning and it threatened to stain everything else Coppy and the Braves front office had done. Getting rid of him was the only way to curtail the endless discussions of just how big a bust Olivera was and just how poor was that decision to trade for him.

And Kemp? The former Dodgers megastar signed an eight-year, $160 million contract after his phenomenal 2011 season in L.A., the breakout season in which he hit .324 with 39 homers, 126 RBIs, 40 stolen bases and a .986 OPS, nearly nearly won the NL Triple Crownand should’ve won the MVP award (he was runner-up to the PED-assistant Ryan Braun).

After his performance fell off sharply for the first three seasons of that contract, Preller made a blockbuster trade to acquire Kemp at the December 2013 Winter Meetings, back when the Padres made a decision to “go for it” in 2015, trading off most of their top prospects for veterans and, well, really miscalculating badly.

Kemp hit .264 with 46 homers, 169 RBIs, 12 steals (none this season) and a .763 OPS in 254 games over 1 2/3 seasons with the Padres, and they wanted to get out from under the remaining three years and $21.5 million annual salary (through 2019) and make room for younger players. Another rebuild of sorts goes on.

Here’s what it amounts to financially for the Braves. This part has really confused a lot of our fans, and I understand why, because they hear the $8.5 million per year figure that Coppy mentioned for Kemp when the deal as announced, and they see various erroneous reports that both the Dodgers and Padres are paying chunks of Kemp’s salary and blah blah blah.

This is it, and we’ll simplify it just as the Braves are, regarding Kemp’s salary: He’s owed $21.5 million per year from 2017-2019, or $64.5 million. Olivera was owed $28.5 million over the next four seasons, 2017-2020. The Padres are paying all of Olivera’s remaining salary (even though they will reportedly DFA him and likely never see him in a Padres uniform).

The Padres are also paying the Braves $10.5 million, which the Brave are applying as $3.5 million per season from 2017-2019. It’s the money that the Dodgers owed the Padres on the Kemp deal, simply redirected to the Braves.

Now, don’t even get into what’s owed the rest of this year to either player. The Braves are basically just disregarding that amount – it’s just not significant, and this year’s payroll is way down anyay — and focusing entirely on the three years they’ll pay Kemp what amounts to an $18 million salary, with the $3.5 million subtracted annually from the Padres (or, if you prefer, from the Dodgers).

Then go back to the $28.5 million that was owed Olivera, and we’ll get to that $8.5 million figure Coppy mentioned. The Braves view this as, they were going to pay Olivera $28.5 million, and likely would have just eaten that money and released him. So, average that figure over three years, the length of time that Kemp is under contract with the Braves after this season. That comes to $9.5 million annually.

Subtract that $9.5 million from the $18 million annually that they owe Kemp and you get $8.5 million. No, the Braves are not paying Kemp a mere $8.5 million annually; they’re paying him $18 million annually. But the Olivera money was a “sunk cost” basically, so they’re paying Kemp an additional $8.5 million and getting a player with right-handed power, something they needed badly, rather than just eating the Olivera contract.

And Coppy and John Hart were right, if they tried to get a right-handed power hitter of Kemp’s ilk on the free-agent market, they’d pay a lot more than $8.5 million annually. So, it’s just in how you look at it.

Also, it’s how you look at the players in the clubhouse and on the field. No longer do they have a mope making a ton of money and doing very little on the field. They have a guy, Kemp, with a dynamic personality who made it clear in his Players’ Tribune article Monday that he’s excited and ready to play for the Braves, the team he grew up loving when he watched them regularly on TBS as a kid in Midwest City, Okla.

If he wants to be here, which he says he does, he can be a great guy in the clubhouse and good influence on younger players.

And that right-handed power. And, again, Olivera is gone.

• Let’s close with this classic from the great Sly & The Family Stone. Because we’re all about letting people be themselves, ya know?

“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” by Sly & The Family Stone

Sly & The Family Stone
Sly & The Family Stone

Lookin’ at the devil
Grinnin’ at his gun
Fingers start shakin’
I begin to run
Bullets start chasin’
I begin to stop
We begin to wrestle
I was on the topI want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Stiff all in the collar
Fluffy in the face
Chit chat chatter tryin’
Stuffy in the place
Thank you for the party
But I could never stay
Many thangs is on my mind
Words in the way

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Flamin’ eyes of people fear
Burnin’ into you
Many men are missin’ much
Hatin’ what they do
Youth and truth are makin’ love
Dig it for a starter, now
Dyin’ young is hard to take
Sellin’ out is harder

Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Here’s why Matt Kemp deal made sense for Braves

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