Braves boss Hart says Kemp ‘first piece’ in 2017 roster build

At some point the Braves will pivot from focusing almost exclusively on building their farm system to stocking their big-league roster with established players who are more than just place-holders or assets to flip for more prospects.

John Hart, the team’s vice president of baseball operations, said they began that shift when they traded for Padres slugger Matt Kemp late Saturday.

“We look at this really as probably the first piece as far as what we’re going to do this winter, as far as adding other pieces into this mix as well, guys that have been around,” Hart said. “We realize that as much as we’ve worked to build this farm system, a lot of these young players are just that: young. We don’t have that wave (of prospects) that’s waiting right on the doorstep.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have some young players that are going to be up here next year that are going to compete. We think there will be some. At the same time, we can’t expect these (young) guys to carry the load.”

The Braves traded Hector Olivera to the Padres for Kemp, who is expected to play left field. The Braves swapped an unproven player who no longer was in their plans for a declining former All-Star who nonetheless provides power hitting for a lineup that lacks it.

It’s the first time during their rebuild that the Braves traded a prospect for an accomplished, everyday player who isn’t considered a short-term addition. Probably the closest previous trade to fit that bill was the deal last December with that got the Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks along with pitching prospect Aaron Blair.

The difference between that trade and the one for Kemp is that Inciarte, 25, had just 504 career plate appearance when the Braves acquired him. He was considered a young player with potential but wasn’t established. He still isn’t: Inciarte has been a strong defender with the Braves but hasn’t produced offensively.

By contrast Kemp, 31, is an 11-year veteran who was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012 and runner-up for NL MVP in 2011. Kemp is making $21.75 million through 2019, with the Padres and Dodgers responsible for a portion of his salary.

The Braves have added veterans in some recent trades but none with Kemp’s profile or salary. And the expectation always was that the Braves would trade those veterans for prospects if the right deal came along.

GM John Coppolella said that’s not the case with Kemp. He said adding Kemp is the type of move they were planning to make this winter to fill one of their “multiple needs” in advance of the team’s move to the new ballpark in Cobb County.

“To get him for roughly $8.5 million a year — when you factor out Olivera – made a lot of sense for us,” Coppolella said. “We didn’t give up a draft pick, we didn’t trade away any prospects, so we were able to stick with the plan that we had, plus still feel a major need for us with right-handed power.”

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