Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Trade: Thumbs Up

Today the Braves traded the best closer in baseball. Are they mad? Do they not want to win? So says the AJC. Mark Bradley equated Kimbrel to Mariano Rivera. Kimbrel is on pace to blow the greatest closer in history’s records out of the water. But are they right? Will Kimbrel retire as the greatest closer in history? Don’t believe everything you read – especially the AJC.

Kimbrel and Melvin/BJ Upton Jr were traded to the Padres for four players (including the Padres top prospect and a pitching prospect) and the 41st pick in the upcoming draft. This gives Atlanta four of the top 56 picks in the draft AND rids them of the worst player in baseball over the past two seasons – and the $47 million still owed to him, according to CBS Sports. Upton's poor play and massive contract were the main reason the Braves underperformed the past two years (and the main reason Frank Wren was fired). Trading BJ alone should win GM John Hart the MLB executive of the year award.

But trade the team’s best player, you ask? No one in history strikes out more batters. Plus Kimbrel is a solid citizen, an Alabama boy with a heart and arm of gold. Took over for Brian McCann as the spokesman for Children’s Healthcare, and for Tim Hudson as the face of the franchise.  

But think for a minute. All the experts and most fans are predicting the Braves will win 70-80 games this season. That means Kimbrel will be needed to pitch two innings per week. For that does a team need a $13 million closer? Not when Hart added two former All-Star closers in the off season. Aspirin-throwing Juan Jaime was a AAA All-Star last year and made the Braves pitching staff out of spring training. Phenom Shae Simmons, nicknamed “Young Kimbrel,” is coming up through the Braves farm system. With Roger McDowell, the best pitching coach in baseball, pitching and the bullpen isn’t the Braves’ problem – with or without Kimbrel.

The tea leaves were all there. At the end of last season John Hart told the press that he would take calls from other teams “on everyone.” With Kimbrel still on the roster at the end of spring training, many experts in the media thought the closer would be trade bait at the July 31 trade deadline. This morning the Braves posted a season opening video on their website - without a single shot of their closer. Now to sell papers and garner website hits the AJC acts like they’re in shock.

What you may not know is that some of these same “experts” have been calling for a Kimbrel trade for two or three years. Trade him at the peak of his value – before he blows out his arm. Makes sense. The past two years Kimbrel has endured a few minor injuries. Will his all-out delivery stand the test of time? The great Rivera’s motion was much more simple and less stressful on his arm and body. Like Tiger Woods, there’s a good chance Kimbrel is not built for the long haul. Another reason to shed his $33 million contract.

Even Chipper likes the trade, tweeting “what John Hart is doing will again make the Braves a contender for a long time. We got away from what made us, the Braves John Hart is getting it back.” Major league baseball is a business, but thankfully the Braves measure success in wins and losses and not dollars and cents. They don't have the same budget as the Yankees or Dodgers but can do well with what they've got.

Sure, trading Craig stings. This could be a long year. I still say they’ll be better than last year and hopefully break even (so does REM’s Mike Mills here). Anyone expecting the Braves to win the World Series is uninformed and unrealistic. Root for them because they're our team, in good times and bad. I will.  

For those four reasons (dumping BJ, not needing a high-dollar closer when rebuilding, trading Kimbrel before he breaks down, and with capable replacements in place) the trade is a good thing.

NOTES: I was driving back from SC this afternoon. DJ Matthew was playing songs from his phone. I only heard about the trade when I stopped for gas and checked my phone. When I got back in the car I asked my kids to check for trade details. Daughter Anna perks up "oh, yeah, Twitter is blowing up over the trade." Thanks for letting me know!

July 3 is Star Wars Night at Turner Field. Buyers of special tickets were to get a bobblehead of Kimbrel flying an X wing fighter. I bought my tickets a few weeks ago, and am considering growing out my grey beard and marching in the parade as old Obi-Wan. Should I?

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