Admit it, you were bored, weren’t you? A few nights without another offseason move for the Braves? The depths of dejection. But, be bored no longer, for the Braves have struck again!
This is, fundamentally, yet another move where the Braves appear to take on some salary commitment from the contract of a now-fringy major leaguer, and get a younger player with control in exchange for doing so. Tonight’s partner happens to be the San Diego Padres, who are scrambling to cut salary, and it’s the $5.5 million player option that Matt Carpenter exercised earlier this offseason that the Braves are taking on, at least in part.
Carpenter is the most broadly-known name in this trade, and it’s not clear that he has much of a role in the Braves’ future plans. A high-quality bat from his rookie season in 2012 all the way through 2018, Carpenter’s career fell apart in his mid-30s. He somehow leveraged a 150-PA renaissance with the Yankees in 2022 into a $12 million guarantee from the Padres ahead of last year, and after faceplanting in 2023 to the tune of -0.3 fWAR in 237 PAs, he’ll probably find a new employer of some sort in 2024.
If you’re looking for silver linings, Carpenter’s .310 xwOBA from last year was more pedestrian than bad, and both Steamer and ZiPS see him as a decent bat going forward. The problem is more that Carpenter is basically a DH at this point, and a league average bat at DH is a pretty weak proposition. Steamer sees him as essentially replacement level; ZiPS thinks he’ll hit enough to be a below-average regular rather than just a warm body, but there doesn’t seem to be too much upside here. You could say that a team could do worse than having a guy like Carpenter hang around and pinch-hit from the left side occasionally, but you don’t need to pay that guy $5.5 million, and the Braves probably aren’t that team.
Instead, it seems like they acquired Carpenter’s salary, less whatever the Padres send over, to grab Ray Kerr, a southpaw reliever with a brief major league stint in 2022, and a longer tour of duty in 2023, where he put up 0.1 fWAR in 27 innings spanning 22 appearances. Kerr has a career 125 ERA-, 109 FIP-, and 90 xFIP-, but his xFIP- in 2023 was 74, which probably intrigued the Braves. He has an option year remaining and has less than a year of service time at this point, so you can see why the Braves were interested.
Pitch-wise, Kerr is fastball-curve, though his curve is thrown relatively hard and is more like a Luke Jackson-type gyroslider. Said curve thing racked up an insane whiff rate of over 50 percent last year, so again, you get it: the Braves took on salary to get a pitcher with stuff (in many senses of that word) they like. Kerr’s fastball seems nice on paper but has been crushed so far, probably because he doesn’t elevate it enough. On the flip side, his curve is all about z-whiff, which gives the Braves a lefty version of that to pair with the recently re-signed Pierce Johnson’s right-handed variant of the same.
In exchange, the Braves are sending minor league outfielder Drew Campbell to the Padres. Campbell was Rule 5 eligible and not selected after putting up an 87 wRC+ in Double-A last year; the 23rd-round pick from the 2019 MLB Draft probably didn’t figure into any of Atlanta’s plans and was just someone to throw in because MLB teams are essentially not allowed to just pay cash straight up to acquire players of a certain caliber.
Some Braves beat writers are indicating that Carpenter will be moved, like Marco Gonzales and Max Stassi before him, so the moves probably aren’t done yet.
UPDATE: The Braves are getting 1.5 million dollars from San Diego, per the Padres’ beat writer.
The Padres are sending the Braves $1.5 million in the Matt Carpenter deal, a source said. Carpenter is owed $5.5 million next season.— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 16, 2023
The Braves are on the hook for four million dollars of Carpenter’s salary next season. That number could be reduced yet again via another trade. They could likely recover one million pretty easily, and at this rate Anthopoulos is working it could be done by Sunday. Pretty good business to get promising bullpen depth at that rate.