Braves acquire catcher Sean Murphy in three-team trade


The Braves, Brewers and A’s have agreed to a three-team blockbuster that will see each team get a new catcher with nine players involved in total. The full trade is as follows:

Braves get catcher Sean Murphy, giving up Kyle Muller, Royber Salinas, Justin Yeager, Freddy Tarnok, Manny Piña and William Contreras.

Brewers get William Contreras, Joel Payamps, Justin Yeager, giving up Esteury Ruiz.

A’s get Kyle Muller, Esteury Ruiz, Freddy Tarnok, Royber Salinas and Manny Piña, giving up Sean Murphy and Joel Payamps.

The deal is official, with the clubs all making announcements.

This move finally brings an end to a trade saga that has been going on for about a year now. After the 2021 season, the A’s leaned hard into a rebuild that saw them trade away Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt before Opening Day, with Frankie Montas getting flipped at the 2022 deadline.

Murphy was widely seen as the next to go for a number of reasons. Firstly, he just crossed three years of MLB service time in 2022 and will now be making higher salaries via arbitration. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected that Murphy will jump to $3.5M in 2023 with two further bumps before reaching free agency after 2025. Secondly, the A’s received a highly-touted catching prospect from Atlanta in the Olson deal in Shea Langeliers. He had an excellent season in Triple-A and carried himself well in a 40-game debut in the majors. Given all those factors, it seemed more and more likely that the A’s would hand the job over to Langeliers and trade Murphy for improvements elsewhere on the roster.

By taking this path, the A’s are parting with one of the best catchers in the game. The 28-year-old Murphy has 330 games in the big leagues under his belt thus far and has performed well in just about every facet of the game. He’s hit 46 home runs and has a combined batting line of .236/.326/.429. That production leads to a wRC+ of 116, indicating he’s been 16% above the league average hitter and even further ahead of the average catcher, since they generally come in a bit lower than others. He also took a step forward at the plate in 2022, striking out in just 20.3% of his plate appearances after being above 25% in his career prior to that.

Defensively, Murphy gets rave reviews as well. Since the start of 2020, he’s posted 13 Defensive Runs Saved behind the plate, a number that places him in the top 10 in the league. FanGraphs’ framing metric gives him a 19.5 in that timeframe, the third-highest such tally. Those all-around contributions have allowed him to produce 10 wins above replacement in those three seasons, according to FanGraphs, second among all MLB catchers with only J.T. Realmuto ahead of him.

Taking all that into consideration, it’s hardly surprising that Murphy garnered plenty of interest around the league. The Diamondbacks, Astros, Cubs, Guardians, Twins, White Sox, Red Sox, Rays, and Cardinals were some of the teams connected to him at various points in recent months. It was reported about a week ago that the Braves were getting close to acquiring him but president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos shot down those reports, saying that he didn’t anticipate a trade. That was either a bluff or something drastically changed in the past week since Atlanta have now indeed closed the deal. This is now the third huge deal Anthopoulos has negotiated with the A’s, though David Forst has since taken over baseball operations from Billy Beane. He acquired Josh Donaldson when he was working for the Blue Jays and has now nabbed Olson and Murphy for the Braves.

Atlanta always seemed a curious fit for Murphy given that they already had three viable catchers on the roster in Contreras, Piña and Travis d’Arnaud. They have cleared out that logjam and acquired Murphy in one fell swoop by including two of those catchers in the deal. On the surface, it seems that the club was keen to swap out Contreras for Murphy as a way of improving behind the plate. However, since the A’s seem set to give Langeliers a shot, it’s possible they were less interested in Contreras, which necessitated Milwaukee’s involvement.

That’s not to say that Contreras isn’t an exciting young catcher in his own right. It’s just that, as mentioned, Murphy is one of the best in the game. Contreras will now join his older brother Willson Contreras, who recently signed with the Cardinals, in the NL Central. The younger Contreras has gotten into 153 games in his career so far, hitting 28 home runs and producing an overall batting line of .260/.338/.471 for a wRC+ of 121. His defensive work isn’t as highly rated as his bat, but he’s still quite young, turning 25 later this month. Even with subpar defense, he’s produced 2.5 fWAR in his brief career thus far, meaning any developments in that department would make him tremendously valuable. It had been recently reported that the Brewers were interested in catching upgrades, but since the club has been paring back a tight payroll, they never seemed like candidates for a big free agent splash. Instead, they’ve acquired a young backstop who has yet to reach arbitration eligibility and has five years of club control remaining. The club has also added a couple of depth arms in Payamps and Yeager.

For the A’s, it’s been reported that they have been prioritizing MLB-ready talent in their trade talks and they have achieved that here. Muller, 25, has appeared in each of the past two major league seasons, logging 49 innings so far. He has an unimpressive 5.14 ERA in that time, but he’s fared much better in the minors. He’s made 40 Triple-A starts in the past two years and has a 3.40 ERA, 28.4% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate. Baseball America recently ranked him the top prospect in Atlanta’s system.

Ruiz has spent most of his career in the Padres’ system but he went to the Brewers in the Josh Hader trade last year. He has some MLB experience, having played in 17 games this year between the two clubs. In 114 minor league games, he hit .332/.447/.526 while stealing 85 bases in 114 games. BA has not yet published their list of top Milwaukee prospects for this offseason, but Ben Badler of BA tweets that Ruiz was going to be in the #8 slot.

Tarnok also has very limited MLB experience, with 2/3 of an inning on the books so far. He threw 106 2/3 innings in the minors this year with a 4.05 ERA, 27.2% strikeout rate and 9.6% walk rate. He ranked #9 on the BA list of top Atlanta prospects. Piña is a 35-year-old veteran who is likely to serve as insurance in case Langeliers struggles or needs some veteran guidance. He signed a two-year, $8M deal with Atlanta but required season-ending wrist surgery in May. He’ll earn $4.5M in 2023 with a $4M club option for 2024 with no buyout.

The one prospect who isn’t likely to help the big league club immediately is Salinas. He turns 22 in April and split the most recent season between Single-A and High-A. He posted a 3.55 ERA over 25 starts with a huge 37.6% strikeout rate but a 13.5% walk rate. Baseball America recently placed him #7 on their list of Atlanta prospects.

The Braves were facing a challenge in the NL East despite having won the division in five straight seasons. The Mets and Phillies have been been spending wildly to upgrade for the coming season. The Mets have added Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga, José Quintana and David Robertson, in addition to re-signing Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Díaz. The Phillies have signed Trea Turner, Taijuan Walker and Matt Strahm. The Braves were going to face a challenge in keeping up with that pace since they were nearing the luxury tax. As is his wont, Anthopoulos has turned to the trade market to make his upgrades. The club still has a question mark at shortstop, with Dansby Swanson having departed for free agency. They could always bring him back though they reportedly haven’t been talking much this offseason. After this trade, the club’s CBT figure is at $229M, per Roster Resource, just shy of the $233M luxury tax threshold for next year.

For the Brewers, they’ve parted with an outfield prospect they just acquired but have added an exciting young catcher, something they would be challenged to do in free agency with their payroll constraints. For the A’s, they have parted with yet another established major leaguer, adding to the list of quality players they’ve sent out the door. In exchange, they’ve brought in one veteran backstop and four young players that they hope can be a part of forming the next competitive core in Oakland.

Talkin’ Jake of Jomboy Media first reported that the Braves, Brewers and A’s were lining up on a deal, as well as the involvement of Contreras (Twitter links). Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported Murphy going to the Braves, as well as the involvement of Piña and the eventual final deal. Robert Murray of FanSided first mentioned Ruiz and Tarnok (Twitter links). Joel Sherman first mentioned Payamps and Yeager on Twitter. Kiley McDaniel first had Muller’s name on Twitter.

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