On Monday, December 12, the first big trade of the offseason went down with a three-team trade between the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves. The focal point of the trade was catcher Sean Murphy going from Oakland to Atlanta. In total, it was a nine-player trade, with five players going to the A’s and three players, including catcher William Contreras, going to Milwaukee. The full trade can be seen below as reported by Jeff Passan.
It is obviously tough to fully assess this trade until we see what the players do with their new organizations. But on the onset of the deal, it doesn’t seem Oakland got the best deal that they could’ve gotten. Especially when it was reported that the St. Louis Cardinals offered the A’s to select two players from a group of four that consisted of outfielder Dylan Carlson, second baseman Nolan Gorman, outfielder Alec Burleson and first baseman Juan Yepez. Now the only player remaining from the A’s 2021 starting lineup is center fielder Ramón Laureano. That’s without including them also trading pitchers Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and Lou Trivino. Although, they did get a pretty solid prospect return from the New York Yankees for Montas and Trivino. The two biggest pieces were New York’s top pitching prospects in southpaw Ken Waldichuk and right-hander Luis Medina. They also received left-hander JP Sears and second baseman Cooper Bowman. As far as this trade goes, Murphy is a clear top ten catcher in baseball, both offensively and defensively. His 122 wRC+ in 2022 was seventh among catchers with at leat 300 at-bats, while he was fifth in framing runs, third in overall defensive runs, and threw out 31 percent of opposing base stealers. You could argue that Murphy is the third best overall catcher in baseball behind JT Realmuto and Adley Rutchsman. There are not many catchers in baseball that hit as well as the 28-year-old does while also playing top notch defense. The Contreras brothers, for example, leave something to be desired defensively but are among top offensive catchers in the league. Let’s take a look at this trade from a prospect standpoint and dive deep into the return Oakland received from the other two parties. It’s also worth mentioning that Milwaukee came away very well, only giving up Esteury Ruiz and getting three solid pieces in return.
OF Esteury Ruiz
Acquired by Milwaukee as part of the Josh Hader deal to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline, Ruiz was originally signed by the Kansas City Royals as an international free agent in 2015. The 23-year-old has now already been traded three times since then, also going to the Padres from Kansas City in a six-player trade back in 2017. He is a burner on the base paths, swiping 85 bags in 114 games across two minor league levels in 2022. Ruiz also showed some power potential as he recorded a .973 OPS with 16 homers between Double-A and Triple-A. But of course, minor league numbers are usually pretty skewed, especially in the Pacific Coast League where he played 28 games with El Paso. The approach is certainly approved, as he upped his walk rate to 12 percent in 2022 from just seven percent in 2021. While he certainly makes contact with a 78.5 percent contact rate, Ruiz had just a 18.5 percent hard hit rate in the minors last year, on top of a 17.5 percent strikeout rate and .194 isolated slugging. But now joining the A’s, the Dominican Republic native will have a chance to get playing time with a team lacking talent. With his speed and range, he can be a strong candidate to be Oakland’s everyday center fielder. Playing time was a question with Milwaukee and certainly won’t be now, so he can emphatically show off his tools and potentially improve his hit tool. Ruiz should also continue to approve his approach at the dish while facing top level pitching in the AL West. He is similar to the other young center fielder the A’s currently have, in Cristian Pache who is strong defensively but hasn’t shown much offensively just yet. Ruiz had just a 10.7 hard-hit rate in his limited time in the majors last year, fourth-lowest among major leaguers with at least 15 batted balls. Ruiz and Pache could end up splitting time in center unless one of them breaks out at the plate with more power. Ultimately, if Oakland wasn’t a barren wasteland, neither one would be the starting center fielder. They both only really have the makings of a fourth outfielder and are essentially fringe average major leaguers. For a player like Murphy, the A’s should have looked into more surefire prospects and not projects. Carlson and Gorman are much more sought after with a better chance at working out in comparison. Obviously, Ruiz wasn’t the only piece in the deal. So let’s look at the other prospects.
LHP Kyle Muller
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound southpaw was a second round pick by the Braves in 2016 out of Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. He saw some action in 2021 and 2022 with Atlanta, but only accrued 46 days of service time while burning through two options. Muller will certainly get a much better shot at being a full-time starter in the big leagues with Oakland, who can give him 25+ starts and see what he has. The 23-year-old has some promise with his four-pitch mix that consists of a mid-90s fastball, a high-80s power slider and low-80s curveball that both flash plus, as well as a less frequent changeup. He doesn’t have pinpoint control and likely never will in the majors, but Muller very much improved his walk rate in 2022 in Triple-A. It went from 12 percent last year in Triple-A to 7.4 percent in 2022. The addition of his slider, that averages as much as 87 mph, was a big help in helping him find the strike zone while missing a lot of bats with it. He also did a solid job of limiting the damage, posting a 1.181 WHIP and struck out 159 over 134 2/3 innings. The A’s certainly have something to work with and Muller has the stuff to at least be a backend starter.
RHP Freddy Tarnok
A third round pick by the A’s in 2017, Tarnok is a former two-way player who the Braves drafted in the third round of the 2017 draft. After showing promise early on, he regressed a bit in 2019, then pitched well in 2021 while reaching Double-A. Over nine starts for Double-A Mississippi last season, the right-hander recorded a 1.111 WHIP with 61 strikeouts to 15 walks in 45 innings. His performance was good enough to earn him a spot on the 40-man roster prior to the 2022 season. Tarnok also recently added a slider that has seen good results, to mix in with a mid-90s fastball, above-average curveball, and changeup. He was one of the most improved pitchers in the Atlanta system the last two seasons, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine between Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. Tarnok had a cup-of–coffee with the Braves, facing three batters in an August appearance against the Mets. He can be a weapon in the Oakland bullpen if he can add a couple ticks of velocity to his fastball. The secondary pitches are solid with his mid-70s curveball a get-me-over pitch and a strong arm-side changeup sitting in the mid-90s.
RHP Royber Salinas
Signed by the Braves out of Venezuela in the 2018 international free agent period, Salinas came on very strong in his United States debut last year. Between Rookie ball and Low-A in 2021, the right-hander struck out 67 batters in just 39 1/3 innings. That high whiff rate carried over into 2022, striking out 175 in 109 innings, which caught the eye of the A’s. But with the high strikeout rates also come high walk rates, as he walked 63 in 2022. The stuff is there, with a high-90s fastball that reached as high as 98 mph to go along with a potential plus wipeout slider, curveball, and changeup. The breaking stuff has enough potential to make him a solid high leverage reliever. Having a chance to air out the issues with control won’t be an issue with an organization like the A’s that won’t be close to contention anytime soon.
Overall, the A’s got some potential in return but they are project pieces. The best piece they got in the deal was Muller, who could turn out to be an ace-type pitcher but also might flame out. He was never gonna get a real shot with the Braves, so now the A’s can at least see what he has. But what makes this trade not make sense is that Oakland took on a 35-year-old catcher in Manny Pina, who projects to make more than Murphy next year. That begs to question why they didn’t ask for Contreras who is much younger, cheaper, and has a big offensive upside. Instead he went to the Brewers, where he should very much thrive. Meanwhile, the potential value the prospects the A’s received have is brought down by having to take on Pina. Turning a superstar catcher into a bag of “maybes” and an aging catcher is not the best move.
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