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Braves continue to fortify their strengths with addition of Sean Murphy

After bolstering their already-strong bullpen last week, the Braves decided that having good catchers wasn’t enough and went out and traded for a great one.

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MLB: JUN 07 Athletics at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The hot stove was well and truly lit here on Monday afternoon, which is when our Atlanta Braves, the Oakland Athletics and the Milwaukee Brewers got together to make a deal that’s seemingly been brewing for a bit. Remember when Atlanta was being linked with Sean Murphy from the A’s? Remember when that was a bit of a head-scratcher for a lot of us since the Braves already had two good catchers and a very nice option as a third choice at that position as well? Remember when that rumor was shot down and everybody just moved on to watching out for what the Braves were going to do at shortstop or left field?

Well, Sean Murphy Watch was back on in a big way when Jake Storiale from Jomboy Media leaked out that something was brewing between the three aforementioned teams:

Sure enough, we started getting more information and the first big domino to fall was Sean Murphy being the centerpiece of the deal. He’s coming to Atlanta — this is not a drill and it’s not a dream. Atlanta has acquired a star-caliber baseball player from Oakland for the second year in a row.

So of course, when it became known that the Braves were in fact going to bring in the star-caliber catcher who will be entering his age-28 season in 2023, the next logical step was to figure out who would be leaving. This town ain’t big enough for four catchers and now it’s only big enough for two in particular. Sean Murphy will be getting the vast majority of time as the starting catcher for the Braves, while I’d imagine that we’re going to start seeing Travis d’Arnaud get a ton of time as the Designated Hitter while that’s going on.

That means that William Contreras and Manny Piña are no longer with the Braves — Piña was sent to Oakland (along with Kyle Muller, Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas) and Wild Bill is joining his brother in the NL Central as a member of the Brewers (with Justin Yeager joining him). One of these moves felt like it was going to happen eventually while the other definitely stings — even if the blow is softened by who the Braves got in return.

When it comes to Piña, it always felt like Atlanta would move him at the first good chance they got. After all, he had two All-Stars in front of him so it seemed like he’d simply provide cover for those two in case something bad happened. It’s not particularly a huge shock that Piña is leaving and it’s also not a huge shock that Oakland was the team to pick him up. They’re still trying to tear things down as they prepare to either move to a new stadium in Oakland or a new city in Las Vegas, so naturally they’d be willing to take on prospects and low-cost veterans. I feel for the A’s fans (particularly those who are in Oakland right now) since it seems like these are the only type of deals that they can “look forward to” nowadays.

Meanwhile, William Contreras’ departure is kind of tough to take. He very quickly became a popular figure here and it’s pretty easy to see why. Anybody baseball player would get popular around here if they hit like Contreras did (138 wRC+, .228 Isolated Power, 20 home runs) did while also needling divisional rivals like he did — whether it was intentional or not. With that being said, it’s definitely understandable that if they wanted to get Sean Murphy then parting with William Contreras or Travis d’Arnaud was necessary.

Again, this town was definitely not big enough for four catchers ranging from solid-to-elite and it was barely big enough for three. Contreras has some pretty good upside and the obvious hope for the Brewers is that his breakout 2022 season translates to a high level of play in 2023. I’ll be rooting for him to hit that mark and I’d imagine I won’t be the only Braves fan in his corner as he moves on with his career in Milwaukee.

So where does that leave the Braves? Folks, that leaves them with a daggone good catcher. As usual, things start to make a ton of sense whenever you go to a certain player’s Baseball Savant page and all you have to do is take a look at what Sean Murphy has going on and you’ll understand why the Braves wanted him as badly as they did.

Look at the bottom two metrics, specifically. Whew!

While Sean Murphy’s bat is close but still not as good as William Contreras’ bat is, Sean Murphy’s glove and overall defensive profile is miles ahead of where Contreras is right now. Murphy finished 2022 in the Top 10 of qualified catchers when it came to both Catcher Framing Runs (8, which was good for sixth place overall) and Strike Rate (49.7 percent, which was good for ninth overall). Murphy’s average Pop Time to second base was 1.89 seconds and to let you know how good that is, he was tied for second in those ratings and only one catcher was ahead of him: J.T. Realmuto with a Pop Time of 1.82 seconds. Murphy also tied with Realmuto for the quickest average Pop Time to third base at 1.40 seconds. While William Contreras is a really good hitter who plays catcher, Sean Murphy is a Catcher with a capital “C”. He’s that good defensively.

The only hurdle left for Murphy to clear on his path to being an elite catcher was figuring out what to do with his bat. This past season was the first real indication that he has, in fact, figured things out at the plate. Murphy finished 2022 with a wRC+ of 122, shaved his strikeout rate down five points to 20.3 percent, pushed his walk rate up a point to 9.2 percent and he’s even got a little bit of pop as he smacked 18 homers last season after a 17-home run season in 2021. If he can get that into the 20-dinger range then Sean Murphy will be giving you everything you could ask of a catcher and then some. He’s been a bonafide star when it comes to his defense and it also seems like his offense is starting to boost him into that elite territory of catchers. The clear hope is that Murphy does in fact reach that potential of being a great all-around catcher over the next few seasons while he’s under team control.

Miami Marlins v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

So you’d think that with as good as Sean Murphy looks going forward that this would be a pretty easy win of a trade for the Braves, right? I wouldn’t say that, though that’s not to say that the Braves got fleeced or anything. They definitely didn’t take a loss here (and it would be absolutely absurd to argue that they got worse by any stretch of the imagination) but this didn’t exactly do much to address their shortstop or left field situation. This trade does make me feel better about what their DH situation will be looking like going forward but it’s still something that you’d like the Braves to address before the season gets underway.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was waiting with bated breath to see if rumored trade option Willy Adames would be coming to Atlanta from Milwaukee. I can’t even lie to y’all, I was a tiny bit disappointed when it turned out that Adames would be staying with the Brewers in this deal. Now granted, that doesn’t mean that the Braves can’t/won’t spin the block again to try to see if they can pry Adames away but at the same time, the fact that the Brewers only gave up Esteury Ruiz in this deal made them the clear overall winners of the deal while us Braves fans are still wondering what’s next when it comes to SS and LF.

So far, it seems like Alex Anthopoulos has been focusing on fortifying positions of strength on the roster. The Joe Jiménez deal from last week helped strengthen the already-formidable bullpen and now this deal has made the Braves go from having a great catching duo to a potentially elite catching duo. Again, this team doesn’t need a lot to be much better than what they were last season (we have to keep in mind that despite the sour ending in the NLDS, this team did win 101 games on their way to overturning a 10-and-a-half game deficit for their fifth-straight NL East title and are also one year away from winning the World daggone Series) but it would be nice to see those positions get settled while we’re still a decent ways away from the regular season.

Even with my concerns aside, Alex Anthopoulos has more-than-earned the benefit of the doubt from this fanbase when it comes to figuring things out with the few remaining deficiencies with this roster. Also, it’s pretty exciting that the team still finding ways to get better by bringing in some pretty good talent. Sean Murphy should do well with the Braves and that’s the most important takeaway from this blockbuster as far as I’m concerned.

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