Braves Trade Craig Kimbrel To Padres

In case you haven’t already heard, the Atlanta Braves have dealt closer Craig Kimbrel and B.J. Upton / Melvin Upton to the San Diego Padres in return for Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Matt Wisler, Jordan Paroubeck, and the 41st overall pick in the June draft. What in tarnation is going on down in Atlanta?

As if this deal seems mysterious enough, there are reports that the Braves plan to DFA Quentin upon arrival. Hmm … does that mean we shorten the transaction to D.(F.A.)O.A.? Anyway, it’s now crystal-clear that Atlanta is officially shit-canning the 2015 season, and probably 2016 as well, with their sights set on 2017 and the opening of their new stadium. In the meantime, they’ll work on “payroll flexibility” and promote the current stadium for children’s birthday parties.

Before this deal, and before I had a chance to write about it, Atlanta also swung a deal with the Diamondbacks for Trevor Cahill. At the time, I thought that was a pretty slick trade and one that suggested the Braves would in fact be trying — a little bit — to compete in 2015. Getting Cahill was a very low-risk, high-reward roll of the dice, and at the very worst, gave the Chiefs a decent fifth starter that would allow prospects such as Mike Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos continue to develop in the minors. The Braves gave up next-to-nothing in the trade — they sent to Arizona a 24-year-old corner outfielder named Josh Elander who has yet to get past A-ball — and they also connived the Snakes into paying more than half of Cahill’s salary. Add to the equation these facts: Cahill is only 27; was hurt badly by pitching at Chase Field AND an unusually high .350 BABIP; and he’s a sinkerballer who will now be under the tutelage of former sinkerballer Roger McDowell. I doubt Cahill will again win 18 games and post a sub-3 ERA as he did as for the Athletics as a 22-year-old in 2010, but there are several factors suggesting that he’ll be better than he was last year — which was fairly awful.

But, we now know why the Braves acquired Cahill — in addition to keeping the big but underdeveloped arms on the farm, they’re hoping he’ll make a big turnaround by the trade deadline and be a chip to nab another prospect or two for the future. Which brings us back to the Kimbrel deal.

You know what? I think the Braves were smart to send away Kimbrel while they could sell high on him, but I really wonder if they did the best they could. It appears to me that this was more about getting someone to take on Upton’s salary than to get big pieces back. My bet is that Kimbrel’s arm is a ticking time bomb, but I doubt anyone else in MLB feels that way; couldn’t the Braves have done better for possibly the best closer we’ve seen since Mariano Rivera hung up his spikes? I’ve always loved the toolsy, speedy Maybin, but he’s now 28 years old and we’ve been waiting 7 years for him to break out; it doesn’t seem like it’s happening. He can’t stay on the field, and even when he could, he was underwhelming at best. Who knows, though? Maybe this is the year he finally puts it together, playing 150+ games, hitting .290, stealing 50 bases, and playing Gold Glove defense in center field. Or maybe he’s another Alex Ochoa or Ryan Thompson. If it doesn’t happen this year, it ain’t happenin’.

If indeed the Braves cut loose Quentin, then this deal is all about Matt Wisler, who was one of the most coveted prospects in the Padres system. The 22-year-old righthander zoomed up to AAA in four years, and pitched fairly well in the hitter-friendly PCL last year. According to scouting reports, he has pinpoint control of a low-90s fastball that can be dialed up to 95 MPH when needed, complemented by an assortment of plus offspeed pitches. Per Baseball America, Wisler has “#2 starter upside.” Well, OK, that makes him a really nice prospect — sounds somewhat like, say, Noah Syndergaard — but gee whiz, is he worth Craig Kimbrel?

The other minor leaguer going to the Braves, Paroubek, is a 20-year-old corner outfielder with exactly 34 professional games under his belt; his claim to fame is that he received private hitting lessons from Barry Bonds as an amateur. How far he’ll go will be tied directly to his bat, and it’s impossible to guess at this point how far that will be. He and the draft pick are absolute crapshoots.

With a little luck, this deal could work out very well for the Braves in the short-term. I’m not even sure it’ll work out in the long term, but they’ve cleared payroll and I suppose they’re betting that Wisler is the real deal. Otherwise, it looks like Atlanta is trying to be just good enough to stay above the Phillies in 2015.

What’s your reaction to this trade? Post your notes in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. crozier April 8, 2015 at 8:05 am
    I guess it’s illustrative that the value of the closer is as low as it’s been in ages. Kimbrel’s the best, but you don’t need the best to win games — you just need a decent collection of arms.

    The Braves may have tried to do better for Kimbrel, and found that not many teams are buying into the notion of a great closer being equivalent to a good position player or top prospect. Or that they’re a lock to be great for more than a few years.

    On a relevant side note, the Mets treating the Opening Day ninth as they would any other late inning was circumstantial, but I prefer it. In theory, anyone who can pitch a decent 7th or 8th inning should be capable of closing a game.

    Irrelevant side note: an actual profanity in your post, Joe? I’m shocked — shocked, I say.

    • argonbunnies April 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm
      I think the Braves intend to actually put their payroll flexibility to good use in a couple years, so the priority was dumping Upton. Kimbrel was the only way to do that. Plus, Kimbrel is highly paid himself, in a role that (as you point out) can often be filled more cheaply. The Braves also get to work their development magic on Matt Wisler, plus there’s the tiny chance that Maybin stays healthy long enough to be the starting-caliber player he’s been in spurts before.

      I heard they DFA’d Quentin — I wonder if the Mets are interested? No space on the current MLB roster, but he’s a guy I’d be happy to have on the bench or stashed in case of injury, as long as he’s healthy enough to swing.