It’s all about the BENJAMIN$, baby

Saturday, December 16, 2017 will go down in the annals of Braves history as the day that Alex Anthopoulos pulled off the first major trade of his tenure as the new GM of the Atlanta Braves. You can safely say it is his best trade to date and hopefully an indication of the creativity he promised to bring to the Braves front office when he was hired a little over a month ago.

The basics: The Braves traded Matt Kemp to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and $4.5M cash. There’s a lot to digest here, so as I’m always bound to do, here’s a Boggy Breakdown:

***Note: the salary figures I use don’t match those that are widely reported elsewhere on Twitter and on the interwebs. Most of the figures you read will include the pro-rated amounts of players’ signing bonuses, which is what MLB does for the purpose of calculating luxury taxes on the highest-payroll teams in the league. I choose NOT to do this because I like to treat signing bonuses as real-time money paid up-front. After all, if a team promises a signing bonus of $5M to get a player to sign with them, he’s getting that money right away, not next year or the year after (unless you’re Dan Uggla but that’s a WHOLE ‘nother can of worms that I won’t open right now).

We’ll start with Matt Kemp. He’s probably the one player on the Braves roster that almost every single Braves fan with a pulse wanted to be traded this off-season – to clear his salary, to get his arthritic hips & bad hamstrings out of left field, and to make room for uber-prospect Ronald Acuña.

Kemp was owed $21.5M for the next 2 seasons (2018 & 2019) and the Dodgers took on all of that contract, every dime, $43M total. Here’s where someone might say “Wait a second Boggy, I thought the Padres & Dodgers were off-setting come of the cost of Matt Kemp’s contract from the first 2 times Kemp was traded?”

In my research, which is backed by Associated Press articles such as this one, the Padres are sending the Braves $2.5M annually from 2017-2019 as part of the trade that sent Matt Kemp to the Braves. Let’s not concern ourselves with what the Dodgers are sending the Padres because that’s their problem. In this case, the Braves get to keep the $2.5M per year for 2018 & 2019 from the Padres, because nowhere in this latest Matt Kemp trade does anything indicate that the Braves are sending money to the Dodgers, quite the opposite actually.

Now for the players the Braves received from the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez is in the final year of a 7-year, $154M contract he signed in 2012 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. That contract is paying him $21.5M for the 2018 season, which makes his contract a total wash with Kemp’s for the 2018 season. He was DFA’d immediately after the trade and will be released today because the CBA stipulates that players cannot be released on the weekends during the off-season – how nice of MLB to make sure their players don’t lose their jobs over the weekend. He was DFA’d in order to get the 40-man roster down to 40 players, which is where it currently stands.

Scott Kazmir is in the final year of a 3-year, $48M contract he signed with the Dodgers in 2016. That contract paid him a $5M signing bonus (paid the day after the contract was signed), an $11M salary for 2016, and $16M salaries each year for 2017 & 2018. Some of you may have read that some of Kazmir’s contract was deferred, and you are correct (here’s the link). $8M of his salary from each season is deferred to be paid in December of 2019-2021. This effectively lowers the total value of the contract for luxury tax purposes at the time of the signing. You may be wondering why the Braves would have taken on Kazmir’s contract if it meant paying him thru 2021 and here’s my response: they didn’t.

I believe that the Dodgers set-up an annuity of some sort to account for these deferred payments. There’s no way the Braves would have agreed to this trade if it meant they actually owed Kazmir $32M until 2021 and not just $16M for 2018. So, for the purposes of the Braves and their payroll calculations for the 2018 season and beyond, that’s their total obligation to Kazmir – $16M in 2018. (h/t to @jervass of @OFRSports for going through this with me to clear it up, you should follow him and the rest of the guys at Outfield Fly Rule – they do great work)

UPDATE: After more research into Kazmir’s deferred payments (and more consultation with @jervass), I’ve confirmed that the Braves are only responsible for Kazmir’s $16M but that they will pay it out as noted in the deferral: $8M in 2018 and $8M in 2021. Here’s an AP source that states it clearly. This will inevitably vary by news source over the course of this season and future seasons, but for the sake of doing the most accurate bookkeeping, the $16M should be realized when it’s paid – half in 2018, the other half in 2021.

Brandon McCarthy is in the final year of a 4-year, $48M contract he signed with the Dodgers in 2015. He received a $6M signing bonus (paid in 2015) and a salary of $11M per year for 2015 & 2016, and $10M per year for 2017 & 2018. Here’s a little piece of info you might not know: the Dodgers bought themselves some injury insurance as part of this trade – the team holds a conditional team option for the 2019 season for $5M if McCarthy spends more than 180 days on the DL quote: “as a result of an injury to his pitching shoulder related to stress fracture or a reaction injury” (more on that here) from 2015-2018. The option is worth $8M if he spends between 120-179 days on the DL during that time period. Now, I can’t tell you if this injury qualifies him for this option, but I can tell you he spent the entirety of the 2015 season on the DL and half of 2016 on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery. All totaled, he’s spent 379 days on the disabled list since he signed that contract. I’m no expert or doctor, but my guess is that the Braves now hold a team option for $5M for the 2019 season on Brandon McCarthy.

UPDATE: After consulting with @TrueBlueLA and doing a little more digging into McCarthy’s original contract and injury history, I no longer believe the Braves hold a $5M team option for the 2019 season for McCarthy.

The conditional option was included in his contract because of previous shoulder problems he’d had, not elbow problems. The conditional option only applies for an injury to his pitching shoulder and none of his DL time since he signed his contract can be attributed to his pitching shoulder – it’s all for his pitching elbow (Tommy John surgery ’15-’16), “the yips” when he returned from his surgery and all of a sudden couldn’t find the strike zone again, and blisters on his pitching hand in 2017. Unless he spends most of the 2018 season on the DL with right shoulder problems, McCarthy will be a free agent after 2018 with no cheap team option.

The Braves also get utility infielder and Rome, GA native Charlie Culberson in this deal. Culberson is pre-arbitration eligible for the 2018 season so the Braves have 4 more years of control over an excellent defender at multiple positions including 2B, SS, 3B, & the outfield. He essentially replaces Jace Peterson. I’m obligated by my name alone to tell you the he is out of options. Since he’s pre-arbitration eligible, the amount he’ll make in 2018 is a non-factor in the evaluation of the finances of this trade, since leftover roster spots are filled with pre-arbitration players making league minimum (more on this later).

Lastly, the Dodgers are sending the Braves $4.5M as part of this trade, an amount that will apply to the 2018 season. This amount is simply to make the entirety of the trade a financial wash for both teams. Summary: Braves add Gonzalez $21.5M + Kazmir $16M + McCarthy $10M ($47.5M total) and subtract Kemp $43M and $4.5M ($47.5M total) for a net of $0 added for each team. You may be wondering why 2 teams would make a trade that nets neither team any financial obligation, and one team is taking on $21.5M extra for the 2018 season. This trade works great for both teams because it allows the Braves to clear future payroll in 2019 to spend on the great upcoming free agent class and it allows the Dodgers to get under the luxury tax threshold for 2018, which also allows them to potentially be able to spend on the 2019 free agent class.

Here’s the breakdown of how the Braves 2018 Opening Day payroll looks as of today:

Under contract: $69.8M (10 players, includes Brothers & Whitley’s minor-league guarantee)

Arbitration estimates: $8.4M (4 players, figures from MLB Trade Rumors)

Pre-arb players: $6M (11 players at $545k, league min)

Dead money: $22.3M (Gonzalez, Dickey buyout, Uggla deferred singing bonus, Rule 5 selection fee for Anyelo Gomez)

From others teams: $7M


Assuming a rough budget of $130M for the 2018 season, the Braves still have around $30.5M they can spend to shore up the bullpen, and/or improve at third base, the 2 places it is believed the Braves are still looking to improve this off-season.

Here’s where the Braves really came out looking like ballers & shot-callers in this trade: their financial obligation for the 2019 season is now a mere $37M. That’s it. All of it. Three guaranteed contracts (Freeman, Inciarte, & Teheran). That’s before arbitration raises but I won’t even begin to estimate those right now because so much can happen between now and next winter before determining who on the roster is or will be arbitration eligible. But if someone says to you “The Braves will have $100M to spend on the free agent class of 2019”, don’t correct them – they’re pretty close to right.

To finish this off, I say we raise our glasses to Alex Anthopoulos, who managed to pull off a trade that we all wanted but were afraid was impossible to accomplish, and he managed to add a veteran starting pitcher, and reliable bench bat and utility fielder with a great glove, and a wild card lefty who could be something, or could be nothing at all, depending on his return from injury. I imagine AA is dippin’ in the Benz with the spoilers right now.

– Boggy

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