In December, the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers acquired starting catchers in a three-team deal. The trade paid off in a big way. Even the Oakland A’s have benefitted from the agreement, making it the most evenly balanced value before the 2023 season.
The Best Trade of the 2023 MLB Offseason
Braves Add All-Star
Despite already employing Travis d’Arnaud, the Braves went for a clear upgrade, even without the need. Sean Murphy has been one of the top defensive catchers in baseball for most of his career, but the real story for Murphy in Atlanta is his offensive improvement. In 2023, Murphy is slashing .262/.372/.493 with a career-high 20 home runs across 102 games for the Braves. His production in the first half was particularly exciting, as he entered the All-Star Break hitting .302 with 17 of those home runs. He has dropped off precipitously in the second half, posting only a 75 WRC+ since starting the All-Star game. However, Murphy has provided value defensively, assigning a 14 fielding run value. Where the Murphy trade has genuinely paid dividends for Atlanta is reducing d’Arnaud’s importance on the roster. After losing his starting spot, d’Arnaud has hit just .229 with 11 home runs, suitable for a WRC+ of 84. d’Arnaud has been worth less than 1 WAR, whereas Murphy has 4.3.
Brewers Gain Rising Star
As the third team in the deal, the Brewers got a solid return for a young outfield prospect (more on that player later). In exchange, Milwaukee received catcher William Contreras. Contreras has significantly improved the Brewers’ catching corps as he’s continued his work from his breakout in 2022. Last season, Brewers catchers ranked 21st in the league in WRC+. In 2023, they rank fifth, primarily due to Contreras. Contreras has continued to produce offensively in his second entire season with a 121 WRC+ and 4.7 WAR, almost double his 2.5 rating from last year. However, his defensive improvement is just as significant. By fielding run value, Contreras has been a top 50 player in baseball this year, with his value placed at eight compared to -7 a year ago. The Brewers boosted their lineup significantly in a simple deal and now will likely win their division for a third time since 2018.
A’s Add Exciting Young Outfielder & Prospects
For the A’s, the Murphy trade was about maximizing their return. In exchange for Murphy, Oakland received three top-30 Braves prospects, catcher Manny Piña and Brewers prospect Esteury Ruiz. Of the return, thus far, Ruiz has been far and away the most impactful. This season, his rookie year, Ruiz has flashed signs of being an exciting big-leaguer, as he leads the American League in stolen bases (61). His issue thus far has been getting on the floor. With just a .304 on-base percentage, Ruiz needs to hit the ball harder and cut down on the strikeouts. His Baseball Savant page highlights his offensive weaknesses: weak contact and high whiff and chase rates. However, Ruiz entered 2023 with just 36 MLB plate appearances. He’s shown enough flashes with his speed to project into a solid defensive outfielder, though he must improve there, too. Ruiz has been the first contributor stemming from the Murphy trade, but more prospects are coming. Whatever the A’s ends were in the deal, they seem to have achieved them.
A Win For All Parties
Two of the three teams in the Murphy trade will likely win their division. The Braves have already clinched, and the Brewers’ magic number is 7 with 12 games to play. Murphy and Contreras have been featured contributors in their respective lineups all season, which is not a guarantee in any trade. This has been the most beneficial for all sides of all the deals made in advance of 2023. The two teams could match up late in October so that this trade will become a significant storyline again.
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