Sean Murphy Trade Grades: Braves and Brewers Get Good Grades on Catcher Swap; the A’s get an ‘F’

The Braves, Brewers and Athletics agreed on a three-team, nine-player trade Monday that sent Gold Glove backstop Sean Murphy to Atlanta, All-Star catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee and a five-man package led by an outfielder Esteury Ruiz and the left Kyle Muller to Oakland.

Here’s the whole trade:

  • received braves: C. Sean Murphy
  • received brewer: C William Contreras, RHP Joel Payamps, LHP Justin Yeager
  • receive athleticsBY Esteury Ruiz, LHP Kyle Muller, RHP Freddy Tarnok, C Manny Pina, RHP Royber Salinas

You should be familiar with the exercise by now. We here at CBS Sports are nothing but the judgmental kind, and that means that whenever a big trade occurs, we analyze it by assessing how each party performed. As always, we will point out that this exercise is for entertainment purposes only and it is okay to disagree with our assessment. We would rather overreact to baseball trades than spend our limited time on this plane of existence fearing the nightmare that awaits humanity just around the corner. We suspect this is the case for you too.

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

Braves: A

Let’s put it that way. The only caveat we can have on Atlanta’s side of the trade is that this deal further thins out an already depleted farm system – and does so to improve a position the Braves seemed set on. That’s all. Otherwise, it’s hard to anticipate a scenario where the Braves regret this deal.

In Murphy, the Braves received a 28-year-old catcher with three more seasons of team control remaining. Backstops, which can contribute both on and behind the plate, are always in high demand and in short supply. Murphy is one of them.

Murphy has a career 114 OPS+, but there’s reason to believe he has more to offer. Last season, he set a new career best at maximum exit velocity and ranked in the 94th percentile. This put him in the company of the likes of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Rafael Devers. While the Braves aren’t looking to help him make better use of his raw power, moving away from Oakland’s sprawling stadium appears to be a move that will allow him to play in the big league for the first time in his career to hit the top 20 homers. It’s a tempting offer given his walkability and the improvements he’s made in his strike rate (from 25.4 percent to 20.3 percent) last season.

Murphy is also a highly skilled defense attorney. He was 86th percentile in framing and 96th percentile in pop time (how long it takes him to get the ball to second base). Consider how he gets high marks for his leadership and dealings with his staff, and he would be worth hiring and hiring even if he were a below-average hitter. The fact that he’s equipped with an above-average racquet makes him one of the best backstops in the game.

Again, the Braves already had a sweet catch stable with Travis d’Arnaud, Contreras and Piña, but you can see why they made this deal, starting with the fact that it’s smart to update whenever and wherever you can – and notably with the new The York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies are adding stars left and right to their collections. Plus, while the Braves probably would have had the same catch situation out there for another year, it’s worth noting that there d’Arnaud is rising in age and has never been physically strong; Contreras is a below average defender; and Piña is an aging backup. There was no reason Not Murphy if the cost made sense. (Coincidentally, the most painful part of the trade for the Braves might not involve athletics at all, but rather sending contreras to the Brewers.)

The question for the Braves now is what to do at shortstop. Murphy’s acquisition certainly won’t deter them from making another attempt to hold Dansby Swanson, that’s for sure, although it gives them even less prospects of doing business if they choose to go to the trade market instead .

Brewer: A

How’s that for an opportunistic business from the Brewers. They traded a player, in Ruiz, who was perhaps the third or fourth most important part of their return to Josh Hader; in return, they acquired Contreras, a part-time catcher who batted well enough to post 138 OPS+ and earn an All-Star Game nod in 2022.

Contreras, who will soon be 25, can really step on the gas. He’s netted 28 times in 153 big league games of his career, and his power is real: His maximum exit velocity last season was in the 97th percentile. He also mostly cares about the striking zone, giving him a good offensive base to build on. Contreras sure has his warts too. He’s very prone to swinging and missing (his puff rate was 10 percentage points higher than the league average) and he’s a significantly underperforming receiver behind the plate, to the extent that the Brewers will likely try to get him a few reps in the outfield and at IE.

It’s reasonable to fear that Contreras’ strikeout rate will skyrocket and his offensive stat will plummet if he takes on a mundane role, or that the Brewers get tired of him costing their pitcher strikes. But the transaction costs here are so high that the Brewers would have been foolish to pass on this deal. Also, it’s possible that trapping instructor Charlie Greene can help Contreras with his glove work, just like he did with Omar Narváez (and others). And who knows, maybe the automated strike zone will be installed in a year or two and eliminate framing as a skill?

In addition to Contreras, the Brewers grabbed two helpers. Payamps is a 28-year-old who has changed seven teams since November 2020. He appeared in 41 games last season and had a 3.23 ERA and a 2.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is said to be part of Milwaukee’s Opening Day Pen. Yeager could also play in the majors in 2023. He has unpredictable control over his power fastball slider combo.

Whatever path fate takes, Contreras is under team control throughout the 2027 season. He will not be eligible for arbitration until the winter of 2024. The Brewers have added a long-term play here without giving up a player they will likely miss. What a gift, what a blessing. Opportunities like this don’t come around often.

Athletics: F

There’s no way to quantify that sentiment, but it sure feels like the athletics front office is most apt to have tunnel vision over players (and skills) they like. As proof, you can look back at some of the trades they made last summer or spring. Or, heck, you can just stare at this one who saw them take the most desirable player on the trade market, buy him into most of the league, and then kind of take this package.

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

Ruiz, February 24, has now traded three times, including twice in the past six months. (He was sent to Milwaukee on the Josh Hader trade.) He put up phenomenal stats with the Minors, hitting .332/.447/.526 overall with 16 homers and 85 steals, but he doesn’t hit the ball hard. What he does is deliver secondary stat with his legs in the outfield and on the base paths.

The expectation for Ruiz was that he would end up as a reserve. Simply put, it’s hard to maintain a good average or healthy baseline percentage when pitchers don’t fear your ability to make mistakes. The Athletics are counting on Ruiz’s hit tool to translate and, to be fair, they’ve had success with other hitters who had below-average exit speeds. These hitters tend to overcome their shortcomings by spraying the ball around the diamond at an optimized angle. Maybe Ruiz is next in line, but if he is, it’s a collection that includes the likes of Tony Kemp, Yan Gomes and Robbie Grossman. Solid players, just not the kind of player you’d want to bring in in return for Murphy.

Muller, 25, is a 6-foot-7 left-hander with loud stuff (including a mid-’90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider) and a history of control issues. He has run more than five batters per nine innings in his pro career, although he reduced that rate to under three last season. There is real benefit here if Muller’s command improvements prove sustainable. Unless? He’s probably just a helper, albeit one that could score in high-leverage situations. The A’s have every reason to give him a season or two to prove he can start.

Tarnok and Salinas are both helpers in the eyes of other teams’ scouts. Tarnok is a 24-year-old with a good fastball who has already reached the majors. Salinas is a 21-year-old who throws hard and hits 13 batters per nine in high-A. As with Muller, the Athletics could give them plenty of starting chances even if they still end up in the bullpen.

Piña, 35, is not a long-time favorite for athletics. Assuming he stays for the winter, he’s a good reinforcement who should be able to help young Shea Langeliers adjust to life as an everyday big league catch. Piña holds a club option for next season. It’s hard to imagine the A’s keeping him busy for so long. Look for him to switch teams sometime between now and next winter.

To recap, the A’s gave up several seasons of one of baseball’s best catchers for a package that included – again in the eyes of professional evaluators – a fourth outfielder, a mid-rotation starter, two assists and a backup can catcher. Shy that the athletics are more correct in their assessment than the sources CBS Sports spoke to, it’s hard to be optimistic about this deal.

In fact, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the A at all. They won’t spend money on talent, and they didn’t draft well enough to ripple it down their pipeline. After deciding it was time to get down to their last core (due to the group’s rising salaries) and build back up, their best chance of regaining relevance in the near future was to reset their list -Nailing trades as they have done time and time again for the past two decades.

Unfortunately, the A’s don’t seem to have done that, either here or in the past. Perhaps time will tell a different story and Oakland will have the last laugh; it has happened before But the story being circulated in the industry is throwing athletics out of touch and out of focus as it falls behind the curve. Those A’s don’t dance on the bleeding edge anymore, they just bleed.

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