Kyle Wright on moment Braves traded him: ‘A lot of different emotions all at once’

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) leaves the field in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) leaves the field in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

To Kyle Wright, Friday was a regular Friday. He honestly did not know it was the deadline for MLB clubs to tender contracts to players.

A few hours before the deadline, though, his agent at Creative Artists Agency called Wright to alert him of some potential buzz involving him. But Wright and his representative did not know whether anything would actually happen.

Then about 10 minutes before the tender deadline, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos called Wright to deliver the news: The team traded Wright to the Royals. Wright, a lifelong Braves fan, would no longer don the uniform that meant so much to him.

“I was definitely caught off-guard, that’s for sure, and wasn’t expecting it,” Wright recalled in a phone conversation with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But it is what it is.”

Was Wright angry? Sad? Surprised?

“Probably all of the above,” Wright said. “I think a lot of different emotions all at once. Frustrated, sad. And I think after I got off the phone, you kind of get excited about the future. I think that is the one thing, is you gotta be careful not to look back too much, and gotta look forward with it. But I think I was definitely upset and pretty beat up about it for a little bit. I grew up a Braves fan, so being able to wear the Braves jersey was a big deal to me. Just made a lot of great friends. (I had) great coaches, training staff – just a lot of good people in the (organization). But that’s probably what I was most bummed about, is that I wouldn’t be with those guys every day anymore.”

Braves starting pitchers (from left Ian Anderson, Max Fried and Kyle Wright celebrate advancing to the NL Championship Series by defeating the Marlins 7-0 in Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.  (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

This trade qualified as a stunner. Sure, Wright would miss all of 2024 because of a shoulder procedure, but he might not have been too expensive: MLB Trade Rumors projected Wright would earn $1.4 million in arbitration. But the Braves decided to save the money and open one more 40-man roster spot during a flurry of moves over a two-day stretch.

Asked about the reasoning Anthopoulos gave for trading him, Wright said: “Pretty much that he had a number that he was given from up top, and that’s what he had to work with. I definitely wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of guys that were moved on from. That was the main thing, at least from what he told me, was just trying to clear out as much cap space as possible to get that number. He’s gotta do a job, too, try to improve the team however he can. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a part of it. But it is what it is sometimes.”

By the end of Friday, the Braves had 10 open spots on their 40-man roster. They seemed poised to be aggressive, whether it be in free agency or the trade market. Anthopoulos recently said payroll will increase, but didn’t specify how much it would go up for next season.

When Anthopoulos told Wright about that number from up top, did Wright take that as the Braves needing to get under a certain payroll figure, or as the Braves clearing space in the budget for big splashes this winter?

“I hope (it’s) the second,” Wright said. “I think that’s what the Braves should be doing, is trying to go make some big additions. I hope it’s the latter. I don’t know exactly which one. Only Alex knows that. Obviously, we’ll find that out more as the offseason goes along.”

On Monday, the Braves signed right-hander Reynaldo López to a three-year, $30 million deal. Perhaps other meaningful moves are ahead.

In October, Wright underwent surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder. In baseball, shoulder procedures come with concern and uncertainty. But in 2022, Wright experienced a breakout season as he led MLB in wins. He could still have upside.

Yet the Braves traded him.

Did Wright view that as the Braves giving up on him?

“That’s exactly how I’m going to take it,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s what they did, but I’m going to use that to my advantage. I’m not accusing anyone of that, but that’s how I’m going to use it, just to continue to push me forward and hopefully better myself and be a better player because of it.”

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) delivers against the Reds in the first inning Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Truist Park in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado / For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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Credit: Daniel Varnado

In 2017, the Braves drafted Wright in the first round, with the fifth overall pick, out of Vanderbilt. He eventually went through tons of ups and downs during his tenure in Atlanta. He struggled. He turned it around. It ended with an injury.

The highlight, Wright said, was the 2021 World Series. “That’s why you play the game,” Wright said. “That year alone, for me, was pretty special, just because that was kind of when I really flipped the switch. I kind of struggled early on and then in Triple-A, was able to actually really get back to myself.” In two World Series appearances, Wright allowed only one earned run over 5-2/3 innings.

He then had a career year in 2022.

Then his shoulder failed him.

“Some of that was probably from pushing a little bit further than I should’ve,” Wright said. “For me, it’s just (that) I want to win and I really enjoyed being able to put that jersey on, so that’s probably why I continued to push through, even though the shoulder was a little (ticked) off at times. Definitely sucks that this is kind of the way it had to end – because of the shoulder injury, I won’t be able to play next year. I think just that whole stretch of kind of all the struggles I had and then being able to kind of really put those to bed and take off. If it wasn’t for this shoulder stuff, I feel like I would probably still be in a very good situation.”

That’s probably true: If Wright were healthy, he likely would still be a Brave. The team must address its starting rotation this winter. If Wright’s shoulder allowed him to come into spring training healthy, he could’ve been part of the solution.

Instead, the Braves moved on from him.

Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright (30) is relieved in the eighth inning at Truist Park on Saturday, July 9, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

After the Royals acquired Wright, Kansas City executive vice president and general manager J.J. Picollo called his newest pitcher with a message: “We’re trading for you with an injury because we believe in you, and we think you can be a big part of this.”

“That obviously gives me a load of confidence knowing that that’s probably not the easiest thing for a GM to do in general, is part ways with one of their guys for an injured player,” Wright said. “That obviously carries some weight and tells me that they believe in me and want me to make an impact.”

Wright sees the Royals as an up-and-coming team. Their young players, he said, should only improve with experience. In 2025, Wright hopes to slot into the rotation and perform well.

Wright, who turned 28 in October, feels he’s experienced almost everything in baseball – the highs, the lows, everything in between. And now, he is dealing with his first injury and his first extended absence from baseball.

“It’s a great time to build on a lot of things: Strength, the mental game – just a lot of different things that I can build upon during this time,” Wright said. “I’ve had a lot of downs, which I think has definitely led to a lot of success. And I think it’s made me a lot tougher – mentally, physically – all because of it.”

Braves pitcher Kyle Wright loosens up in the bullpen preparing to throw live batting practice during spring training workout Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

After he said this, Wright recalled his start in Game 3 of the 2020 National League Championship Series against the Dodgers. He allowed seven runs and only recorded two outs.

“That was about as bad as it can possibly get, and it’s probably the lowest point of my career, I’d say, by far,” Wright said. “Definitely had some doubts then, and just being able to learn from that and really come out on the other side of it and have, really, a lot of success since that point, has definitely prepared me and helped me propel to where I’m at now.”

Wright said Dr. Keith Meister, who performed Wright’s shoulder procedure, was happy with how it went. Meister said Wright should eventually reach his pre-injury form.

“That’s my plan,” Wright said. “If he gave me a 50% chance of getting back to myself, I’d take that and bet on myself to be back.”

He will do so in a new organization – not for the Braves. Wright is asking questions he hasn’t in a long time.

Where do he, his wife and their dog live in Arizona for spring training? Where will they live in Kansas City? What do they do with their condos in Florida and Atlanta?

“Things like this, it definitely adds some craziness to your life, that’s for sure,” Wright said. “It’s all part of the journey.”

But this twist was rather surprising.

“I would probably say I was just as shocked as (everyone else),” Wright said.

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