The Braves managed to rid themselves of Hector Olivera, trading the troubled outfielder to the San Diego Padres for two-time former All-Star outfielder Matt Kemp in a swap of bad contracts. And in the Braves’ case, a creative means of getting some right-handed power while cutting ties with a player they no longer wanted to be associated with.
Olivera, 31, is serving an 82-game suspension through Aug. 1 for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy after being arrested April 13 and charged with one count of misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly beating a female acquaintance in an incident at the team hotel in Arlington, Va. She was treated a local hospital.
Kemp, 31, has hit .262 with 23 home runs — five more than Braves team leader Freddie Freeman — and 69 RBIs in 100 games this season, with 100 strikeouts, 16 walks and a career-worst .285 OBP and .489 slugging percentage. He’s hit .313 (30-for-94) with runners in scoring position and .333 against left-handers.
“He’s someone who can help us out,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “We need to get back to winning games here. We think this guy can hit right behind Freddie Freeman, can give us some power that we sorely lack, and that he’ll be a really good help to our team on the field and off the field as we try to get back to being a playoff-caliber team.”
The Braves expect to have Kemp in uniform for Tuesday’s series opener against the Pirates at Turner Field, after an off day in the schedule Monday. He’s expected to bat cleanup and play left field unless the Braves trade right fielder Nick Markakis.
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Kemp has played only right field the past two seasons, after playing 41 games in center and 44 games in left in 2014.
A two-time former All-Star and 2011 National League MVP runner-up whose performance has declined since then, Kemp is owed $21.5 million in each of the next three seasons through 2019. The Padres are paying $10.5 million of that total — $3.5 million annually — or the same amount of Kemp’s salary that the Dodgers were paying the Padres under terms of the trade that sent Kemp from Los Angeles to San Diego in December 2014.
The way the Braves view it is that they are effectively paying $8.5 million more per year for the next three seasons than the total amount they would’ve paid if they kept Olivera, who was owed $28.5 million over the next four seasons. Kemp is expected to be in uniform for Tuesday’s home series opener against the Pirates, after the Braves’ day off Monday.
Coincidentally, Olivera was traded on the one-year anniversary of the three-team trade that brought him to the Braves from the Dodgers, with the Braves giving up left-handed starter Alex Wood, relievers Jim Johnson and lefty Luis Avilan, and infield prospect Jose Peraza.
The Braves also got lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez and minor league pitcher Zachary Bird in that trade along with a competitive-balance draft pick, the No. 40 overall selection in this year’s June draft, which they used to select high school lefty Joey Wentz. Rodriguez had Tommy John elbow surgery in September and still hasn’t pitched for the Braves.
Olivera is owed $28.5 million from 2017 through 2020, the final four seasons of a six-year, $62.5 million contract he signed with the Dodgers in March 2015, after defecting from Cuba and being declared a free agent. The Dodgers traded him some four months after signing him, swallowing a $28 million signing bonus and his first year’s salary.
Olivera made his major league debut for the Braves on Sept. 1 and has a .245 average (24-for-98) with two home runs, a .296 OBP and .378 slugging percentage in 30 games, including a .211 average in six games this season before his arrest. He was switched from third base to left field during the offseason and was a below-average defender at both positions.
Kemp isn’t even close to being the player he was when he won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2009 and again in 2011 while manning center field for the Dodgers. He was the National League MVP runner-up in 2011 after batting .324 with league-leading totals of 39 homers and 126 RBIs along with a .986 OPS and 40 stolen bases.
Still, he’s a right-handed hitter with legit big power.
“You guys have seen it where it takes us three or four hits to score a run,” Coppolella said. “He can put three runs on the board with one swing. We don’t have right-handed power like him, we don’t have anybody like this on our team, and frankly I don’t think if we were to start spring training right now with this club, there’s nobody in Triple-A that can do this. So I think for us it makes a lot of sense. It’s a sign that we aren’t happy losing, we aren’t happy trying to finish with the worst record ever so we can get the first pick. We want to win every night, and making this trade now is a big deal to us because it helps us get better for this year, and it helps us get better for the next three years after that.”
Braves infielder/left fielder Jace Peterson called Kemp “a guy who can change a game; he’s been doing it for a long time. Played against him when he was in San Diego and I know what kind of guy he is, so I’m looking forward to having him here…. Just from me talking to Matt on the field last year and when he was with L.A., he’s a heck of a player. He’s a guy who’s going to be a leader, and I’m looking forward to having him on my team.”
Now regarded as a below-average outfielder, Kemp also has has no stolen bases this season and totaling 38 over the previous four seasons combined.
From the Padres’ perspective, trading Kemp would open a roster spot for one of their outfield prospects. They will reportedly designate Olivera for assignment, meaning he might never play for the Padres.
Olivera hit .214 with one homer in 12 games for two minor league teams on his rehab assignment and was 4-for-35 (.114) in nine games at Triple-A Gwinnett.