The Braves need to resolve their shortstop situation. They could upgrade in left field. Maybe they can improve their starting rotation.
They had three – but none were as good as Murphy, who is one of the best all-around catchers in the sport. He will likely start ahead of Travis d’Arnaud, who will still see plenty of playing time.
“We knew that was a position of strength,” Anthopoulos said in a Zoom call Monday night. “The problem is that you can’t decide when players become available. And you can sit there and say, “Well, we don’t need 23, so let’s move on.” But you may no longer have access to this drive. So finally, you know, it was time to have it.
The Braves got Murphy, 28, who has three years in control and won’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season.
In Oakland, the Braves sent left-hander Kyle Muller, right-hander Royber Salinas, right-hander Freddy Tarnok and Piña. The Athletics also acquired outfielder Esteury Ruiz from the Brewers.
In Milwaukee, they sent Contreras and right-hander Justin Yeager. The Brewers also received right-hander Joel Payamps from the Athletics.
“We definitely gave up a ton,” Anthopoulos said, “but we’re getting a very good player back.”
Since his first full season in the majors in 2020, Murphy has compiled 10 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, who ranks second among receivers behind the Phillies’ JT Realmuto (12.6 WAR). Last season, Murphy’s WAR 5.1 led the American League and was the second highest rated for a receiver.
In 2022, Murphy hit .250 with a .759 OPS. He hit 18 homers and drove 66 runs. He led all AL primary catchers in hits, doubles, RBIs and total bases, and was second in home runs and runs scored. Murphy also has an above-average hard-hit rate and good high-end exit speed numbers, and could have better numbers at Truist Park than he did at pitching-friendly Oakland Coliseum.
According to Baseball Savant, his pop time to second base—the time between when a pitcher hits his glove and when the fielder is expected to receive his pitch on a base during steal or putout attempts—s is ranked in the 96th percentile of the sport. last season. He is also good at framing pitches.
Murphy knocked out 19 base runners last season, tied for fifth in the big leagues. His steal percentage of 31.1% was the third highest in baseball among catchers with that many attempts. He also caught 116 games last season which led the AL and showed his durability.
“We’re getting a really strong player behind the plate. He has the ability with the bat. But his business card is undoubtedly his glove,” Anthopoulos said.
The Braves’ interest in Murphy may have started when they connected to Oakland while trading for Matt Olson. “You always look at rosters and teams,” Anthopoulos said. “You know Sean Murphy is a very good player, so obviously we were aware of that.” But Murphy wasn’t cut out for the Braves, who had other needs at the time. As it turned out, the Braves received incredible production from d’Arnaud and Contreras as the two became All-Stars.
The Braves then checked on Murphy early this offseason. Once again, the teams were not up to scratch.
On Saturday, however, a scenario presented itself for the Braves to acquire Murphy in a three-team trade. They worked on a potential deal until Monday, when they finally executed it and landed Murphy.
“As much as it wasn’t a need for 23, with the three years in check and so on and all that he brings, he’s a very good player to acquire; he suited our club well,” Anthopoulos said. “We were going to try to find a way to make the deal work.”
To acquire Murphy, the Braves dealt out a promising young receiver, a veteran receiver and several talented prospects. Anthopoulos, who dived into his farm system in the trades this offseason and last, has a great record of not getting burned in the trades since taking the job in Atlanta.
Contreras, who isn’t a free agent until after the 2027 season, has hit 20 homers and posted an .860 OPS. He has made progress with his defense, but it still needs to improve.
Muller was Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect on MLB Pipeline, while Tarnok (No. 6) and Salinas (No. 18) were also in the top 20. Piña, a Braves backup with Contreras, will earn 4.5 million dollars in 2023.
Had he remained in the organization, Muller would have competed for the starting fifth spot (if Anthopoulos had not added to the rotation). He might have made his debut for the Braves in 2023. The Braves weren’t sure what role Tarnok, who made his debut last season, would play.
Salinas, 21, might be the name to watch here. Through Low-A and High-A last season, he posted 14.45 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
“Big arms, big stuff, lots of swing and miss,” Anthopoulos said. “Big advantage. I know he’s not a big name right now, but we like him a lot. The talent is definitely there.
Murphy is not cheap. But it’s the price to pay to acquire an elite talent with several years of control.
“It’s always hard to make trades, it’s always hard to trade guys,” Anthopoulos said. “It’s just a rare opportunity to have a top defensive player in a top position. But it’s tough. I mean, we’ve let down a lot of really talented guys that we really like. But we’re looking at Sean and how he fits into that core, with that group, it’s just a really good fit.
“We put so much stock in this position. The bar is very high for us. We’re very particular, very specific about who we target in a role like that. It was about him, no doubt. You would like to give up less in these trades. You try to get a really good player that the others want too.
If healthy, Murphy will almost certainly be the starter. But d’Arnaud will still get plenty of playing time because Murphy won’t start every game and d’Arnaud can be the designated hitter if he doesn’t catch. Anthopoulos said d’Arnaud will always be a “key part” of the club.
In the spring, the Braves traded Shea Langeliers to Oakland as part of the Olson deal. Now Contreras is gone. And yet, the Braves might be better off at receiver as Murphy is considered one of the best safety nets in the game.
Anthopoulos has a special ability to formulate and execute his vision. Where and when others zigzag, he zags. You might think you know what he can do to improve his club at some point, but he always reminds you of something.
You do not do. He is always a candidate for doing something unexpected.
As the offseason began, all eyes were on Dansby Swanson’s free agency and the potential hole he could leave if he left Atlanta. The Braves could also use another outfielder. Maybe they are still trying to improve their rotation.
But the Braves had talent and depth at receiver, and you probably didn’t think they would trade for someone like Murphy.
So what …
“All of a sudden,” Anthopoulos said, “there was a path to get him to where it still made sense for our team.”
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