Trade scores Shaun Murphy: Braves and Brewers get high scores swapping catcher; The letter “A” becomes an “F”

The Braves, Brewers and Athletics agreed to terms Monday on a three-team, nine-player deal that sent Gold Glove backup Shaun Murphy to Atlanta, All-Star catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee, and a five-player package led by an outfielder. Esturi Ruiz and left Kyle Mueller to Auckland.

Here is the whole trade:

  • Brave receivesC: Shaun Murphy
  • Receive brewers: C William Contreras, RHP Joel Payamps, LHP Justin Yeager
  • Athletics receiving: OF Esteury Ruiz, LHP Kyle Muller, RHP Freddy Tarnok, C Manny Piña, RHP Royber Salinas

You should know the drill by now. We here at CBS Sports are nothing if not judgmental, meaning that whenever a major trade takes place, we dissect it by rating the performance of the parties involved. We will note, as always, that this exercise is for entertainment purposes only and it is good not to agree with our rating. We’d rather overreact to baseball deals than spend our limited time on this plane of existence dreading the nightmare waiting for humanity around the bend. We suspect the same applies to you.

With that in mind, let’s get this show off the road.

The brave:

Let’s put it this way. The only reservation we can muster on the Atlanta side of the trade is that this deal further thins out an already depleted farm system – and it does so to upgrade a position the Braves appear to be set at. That’s about it. Otherwise, it is difficult to predict a scenario in which the Braves will regret this deal.

In Murphy, the Braves got a 28-year-old catcher with three more seasons of team dominance remaining. Backsplashes that can contribute both to and behind the panel are always in high demand and in short supply. Murphy is one of those.

Murphy posted 114 OPS+ for his career, but there is reason to believe he may have more to offer. To wit, last season he put up a new career best in maximum speed out, ranking at 94 percent. This put him in company with the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Raphael Devers. Even if the Braves don’t try to help him better utilize his raw power, moving away from spacious Oakland seems like a move that will enable him to hit a career-best 20 home runs for the first time in his big-league career. This is an attractive proposition given his willingness to walk and the improvements he made last season in his strike rate (from 25.4 percent to 20.3 percent).

Murphy is also a highly skilled defender. He ranked in the 86th percentile in framing and in the 96th percentile in pop time (how long it takes to get the ball to second base). Consider how he gets high marks for his leadership and handling of the pitching staff, and he’ll be worth hiring and starting even if he’s a below-average hitter. Being an above average stick wielder makes him one of the best props in the game.

Again, the Braves already had an attractive stable with Travis d’Arnaud, Contreras and Piña, but you can understand why they made this deal, starting with being wise to promote whenever and wherever possible – and especially with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies adding stars from the left. And right to their groups. Additionally, while the Braves might have been fine running the same eye-catching position there for another year, it’s worth noting that d’Arnaud is getting up there in age and has never been as physically strong; Contreras is an underrated defender. And Piña is an old backup. There was no reason Not To get Murphy if the cost makes sense. (Coincidentally, the most painful part of the Braves trade may not have involved the Athletics at all, but sending the Contreras to the Brewers.)

The question the Braves are asking now is what to do at shortstop. Acquiring Murphy doesn’t cost them another round in keeping Dansby Swanson, that’s for sure, though it does give them fewer odds of dealing if they choose instead to enter the trade market.

Brewers:

How’s that for an opportunistic piece of work by Brewers. They traded one player, in Ruiz, which was probably the third or fourth most important part of their comeback over Josh Hader; In return, they acquired Contreras, a part-time catcher who hit well enough to post 138 OPS+ and earn an All-Star Game nod in 2022.

Contreras, who will soon be 25, can really direct the ball. He’s returned 28 times in 153 big-league games, and his power is legit: His top speed for his walkouts last season ranked at the 97th percentile. He’s also mostly concerned with the strike zone, which gives him a good offensive base to build from. Contreras has his warts, sure. He’s prone to swings and misses (his pass-out rate was 10 percent above the league average mark) and he’s a well-below-average receiver behind the plate, to the point where the Brewers are likely to be looking for some reps. Abroad and in DH.

It’s reasonable to fear that Contreras’ strike rate will swell and sink his offensive value while he’s in an everyday role, or that the Brewers are tired of him costing their pitchers strikes. But it is the cost of the deal here that they would have been fools to pass on this deal. Plus, it’s possible that gripping coach Charlie Green can help make Contreras’ gloves the way he did for Omar Narváez (and others). And who knows, maybe Auto Strike Zone will be installed in a year or two and eliminate framing as a skill?

In addition to Contreras, the Brewers also nabbed two sedatives. Payamps is a 28-year-old who has changed teams seven teams since November 2020. He appeared in 41 games last season, compiling a 3.23 ERA and a 2.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It is believed to be part of a Milwaukee Opening Day pen. Yeager could go big in 2023, too. He has an erratic control of his speedy power combination.

Whichever course fate takes, Contreras is in the team’s grip through the 2027 season. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until the winter of 2024. The Brewers have added a long-term piece here without giving up a player they’d likely miss out on. What a gift, what a blessing. These kinds of opportunities don’t come around often.

Athletics: F

There’s no way to measure this feeling, but it’s certainly the athletics front office that is most inclined to experience tunnel vision around the players (and skill sets) they love. For clues, you can look at some of the deals they had this past summer or spring. Or, you could just stare at this game, which saw them take the hottest player in the trade market, shop him in most leagues, and then somehow accept that package.

The only way to view this return as a fair value for Murphy is to believe that Ruiz and/or Mueller are the stars of the future. Is this a reasonable position to take? Not to us, nor to the handful of scouts and analysts we spoke to for this piece.

Ruiz, 24 in February, has now been traded three times, including twice in the last six months. (He was sent to Milwaukee in a Josh Hader trade.) He put up exceptional stats in the minors, hitting .332/.447/.526 overall with 16 home runs and 85 steals, but didn’t hit hard. What he does do is provide secondary value with his legs on the field and on base lanes.

Ruiz’s expectation was that he would end up as a reserve. Simply put, it’s hard to maintain a good average or baseline health percentage when shooters aren’t afraid of your stinging ability. The Athletics are betting that Ruiz’s hit pitcher translates, and to be fair, they’ve had success with other hitters whose exit speed has been subpar. These hitters tend to overcome their shortcomings by splashing the ball around the diamond at an improved angle. Ruiz may be next in line, but if he is, it’s a group that has included the likes of Tony Kemp, Jan Gomez and Robbie Grossman. Strong players, just not the kind of player you want to bring in for Murphy.

Mueller, 25, is a 6-foot-7 left fielder with loud stuff (including a mid-90s fastball and a slider who swings and misses) and a history of control problems. He’s walked more than five batters in every nine innings during his professional career, though he shaved that average down to less than three last season. There is a real positive trend here if improvements to Mueller’s orders prove sustainable. if not? He’s probably just a softener, albeit he can step up in situations that require a lot of influence. The A have every reason to give him a season or two to prove he can start.

Tarnok and Salinas are both dwellers in the eyes of scouts for other teams. Tarnok is 24 years old with a good fastball and has already made it to the majors. Salinas is a hard hitting 21-year-old hitting 13 batters in all nine at High-A. As with Mueller, the Athletics can give them ample opportunities to start, even if they end up still playing when all is said and done.

Piña, 35, is not a long-running piece for athletics. Let’s say he sticks through the winter, he’s a quality backup who should be able to help young Shea Langeliers adjust to life as an everyday player in the big leagues. Piña has a club option for next season. It’s hard to see A using it for so long. Look for it to change the difference sometime between now and next winter.

To recap: The A’s surrendered several seasons from one of baseball’s best players to a package that might include—again, in the eyes of professional evaluators—a fourth infielder, a starting midfield, two relievers, and a backup catcher. Shy of the Athletics being more correct in their assessment than those sources CBS Sports spoke with, it’s hard to be sanguine about this deal.

In fact, it’s hard to be optimistic about A at all. They wouldn’t spend money on talent and didn’t craft it well enough to make it flow in waves. Once they decided it was time to chase down their last core (because of the group’s high salaries) and rebuild, their best bet for returning to relevance in the near future was to nail their reset trade list, the way they have time and time again over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, the A’s don’t seem to have done that, here or earlier. Perhaps time will tell a different tale and Oakland will have the last laugh; It has happened before. But the story playing out within the industry has kept Athletics out of touch and out of focus while falling behind the curve. Those A’s don’t dance on the bleeding edge anymore, they just bleed.


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