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Sean Murphy trade rankings – how did the Braves, Athletics and Brewers do?

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The exchange: A three-team deal that brings C Sean Murphy to the Braves

Braves get: C Sean Murphy (As)
Brewers get: C/DH William Contreras (from Braves), RHP Joel Payamps (from A’s), RHP Justin Yeager (from Braves)
A’s get: LHP Kyle Muller (from Braves), RHP Freddy Tarnok (from Braves), RHP Royber Salinas (from Braves), C Manny Pina (from Braves), OF Esteury Ruiz (from Brewers)

Perhaps the easiest way to look at this trade: The Braves get Murphy’s MVP, a solid two-way player who won a Gold Glove in 2021 and broke out with his best offensive season in 2022 — and if you get the best player in a trade, chances are you’ll end up winning the deal in the long run.

What’s intriguing here is that the Braves already had of them All-Star catchers on their roster in 2022, Travis d’Arnaud and Contreras (who started the All-Star Game at designated hitter but also started 57 games behind the plate for the Braves). So why trade six players for Murphy?

Well, for starters, it’s also really good. Offensively, Murphy hit .250/.332/.426 in 2022, ranking seventh among catchers in wRC+. And moving to Atlanta should provide a nice offensive boost: Over his career, he has .684 OPS in Oakland and .820 on the road. Expect him to improve on the 18 homers he’s hit with the A’s. To top it all off, the Braves have three more years of team control from Murphy, adding to their collection. already impressive talent under 30, as my ESPN colleague Paul Hembekides points out:

Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Braves sign Murphy to a long-term extension, similar to what they did last season when they acquired Matt Olson from the A’s.

The Braves gave up a good hitter in Contreras, who hit .278/.354/.506 in 97 games with excellent hard-hit rate (84th percentile) and max outing speed (97th percentile). He’s got a lot of swing and miss in his game, but does take a few walks – essentially, he’s a similar profile to his older brother, Willson. Like his brother, his overall defensive chops are the big question — and it’s clear the Braves had enough to worry about wanting to level up with Murphy, an outstanding defensive receiver. Murphy ranks well in field framing and is considered a solid leader for a pitching team. With d’Arnaud and Murphy, the Braves now have two of the top six in Statcast’s rankings for recorded receiver-framing runs from 2022.

On top of that, Contreras only threw 14% of base robbers in 2022 – and with new rules limiting pick-up throws and increasing base size, this weakness could be further exploited in 2023 (d Arnaud has also had throwing issues in the past, although he was 25% better in 2022, like Murphy).

Contreras turns 25 in a few weeks, so he’s young enough to improve in those areas, but the Brewers got him for his bat, not his defense. Their catchers only hit .202/.292/.316 with 12 home runs, so Contreras projects a big improvement. Indeed, his .860 OPS last season was higher than any Brewers player, so he should slip into the middle of the order. It’s a nice comeback for the Brewers to plug a weak hole in the roster – and they’ve done it without having to drop a key member of the 2023 squad.

Maybe that’s underestimating Ruiz a bit. He came to the Brewers as part of the Josh Hader deal, and his minor league numbers were among the most impressive of 2022: .332/.447/.526 with 16 homers and 85 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple- HAS. . He even had acceptable discipline at the plate with 66 walks and 94 strikeouts. He’s a divisive prospect, however. While that stat line makes him look like a speedster with some pop, his exit speeds in the minors are low, and some analysts don’t think he’ll hit with much power in the majors. He’s certainly an exciting prospect, especially if the running game returns to the sport as some believe, but his ceiling could ultimately be more of a fourth outfielder.

Muller and Tarnok were part of the Braves’ enviable pitching depth, both having already reached the majors – exactly the kind of prospects the A’s like to pursue. Muller is a big 6-foot-7 southpaw with a plus change that finally solved some of the control issues that had plagued him in the past, at least in Triple-A, where he reduced his walk rate by 4, 7 for nine in 2021 at 2.7. He’s made 11 career major league starts and has a 5.14 ERA, but there’s mid-rotation potential if he can throw enough strikes. Tarnok had a 4.05 between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s been one of my favorite sleeper prospects for a few years, but he’s going to have to improve his command and reduce home runs.

In fact, the real sleeper here might be Salinas, a burly right-hander who whipped up 175 batters in 109 innings as a 21-year-old in Class A, hitting 98 mph with his fastball. He’s walked too far (63) to be considered anything more than a wild card right now, but he’s a reasonable bet for a team like the A’s.

Baseball America recently ranked Muller as the No. 1 prospect for the Braves, Salinas No. 7 and Tarnok No. 9, while MLB.com had Ruiz as the No. 9 prospect for the Brewers (behind four other outfielders). There’s definitely a way the A’s have added significant depth to this deal – if these four pan out. But there’s also the more likely scenario where they haven’t gained any star power while trading a very valuable player to Murphy.

The Braves look like winners here, even trading three of their top 10 prospects plus Contreras. Obviously, they think Murphy is going to provide a major defensive improvement. It’s hard to fault anything the Braves have done over the past two seasons, and with Arnaud a potential free agent after 2023, they have their catch-up position solidified through 2025. The Brewers make a significant addition without give up a lot – especially because they have a bunch of other outfielders ready to make an impact in the majors. Contreras has five years of team control and could be a 30-homerun cleanup hitter at this park. If so, the Brewers will happily live with some of the defensive shortcomings.

As for Oakland fans…well, they knew a Murphy was coming, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. The A’s always prefer quantity in their deals and maybe it works that way — if they get four 2-WAR players, that’s significant depth for an organization like Oakland. But I wish they had at least one sure prospect, and I’m not sure they did.

Ranking of the Braves: A
Ranking of brewers: A
The A rating: VS



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