Backstop swap: Murphy to ATL, Contreras to Crew in 3-way deal
ATLANTA -- Sean Murphy is the Braves’ new catcher of the future.
Murphy was acquired from the A’s on Monday afternoon as part of a three-team deal that also included the Brewers. To land the highly regarded catcher, the Braves parted ways with All-Star catcher William Contreras and the club’s top-ranked prospect (per MLB Pipeline), left-handed pitcher Kyle Muller.
“It’s always hard to trade guys away,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said. “It’s just a rare opportunity to get a premium defensive player at a premium position. We gave up a lot of talented guys that we like. But we look at Sean and how he fits with this core and this group, and it’s a really good fit.”
The Braves paid a steep price to get Murphy, but in return they gained one of the game’s top backstops. The 28-year-old ranked third among all catchers (min. 400 plate appearances) in 2022 with 5.1 fWAR, trailing only the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto (6.5) and Orioles rookie Adley Rutschman (5.3). He slugged .426 with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs for Oakland this year. He finished with a 120 OPS+ on his way to receiving a share of down-ballot votes for the AL MVP Award.
Adding to the significance of the acquisition, Murphy is under team control for each of the next three seasons before being eligible for free agency after 2025. He won a Gold Glove Award for his work behind the plate in 2021 and finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting in the pandemic-shortened '20 campaign.
OF Esteury Ruiz from Brewers (club's No. 8-ranked prospect)
C Manny Piña from Braves
LHP Kyle Muller from Braves (club's No. 1-ranked prospect)
RHP Freddy Tarnok from Braves (club's No. 6-ranked prospect)
RHP Royber Salinas from Braves (club's No. 18-ranked prospect)
C Sean Murphy from A’s
C William Contreras from Braves
RHP Joel Payamps from A’s
RHP Justin Yeager from Braves
What is the Braves' catching situation now?
With Manny Piña returning from season-ending wrist surgery and Contreras coming off an unexpected All-Star season, the Braves had a surplus of catchers that also includes All-Star Travis d’Arnaud. They used this depth as a position of strength and opted to deal both Piña and Contreras, who hit .278 with 20 homers and a .860 OPS in 376 plate appearances last year.
Despite dealing two catchers, the Braves still end up with one of the game’s top catching duos. While Murphy ranked third among all MLB catchers in fWAR, d’Arnaud ranked sixth.
Anthopoulos spoke to d’Arnaud before completing this deal for the man who will share the position with him this year.
“There will be plenty of playing time to go around,” Anthopoulos said, indicating both could get some plate appearances at designated hitter.
Besides his solid offense, Murphy ranked in the top 5 percent of catchers in pop time and his framing was in the 86th percentile.
Why was Contreras dealt?
Contreras became a fan favorite while posting a 138 OPS+ in ’22. He served as the National League’s starting designated hitter at the All-Star Game and showed some improvement defensively, and is under team control for the next five years.
“We definitely didn’t go into the winter thinking we had to do something behind the plate,” Anthopoulos said. “We viewed d’Arnaud, Contreras and Manny Piña, with the DH spot, as a position of strength. The issue is you can’t control when players come available. You can say you don’t have a need in  and pass. But you may not have access to that player again.”
Despite that performance, they chose to sell high on the 24-year-old slugger, who had seemingly become Atlanta’s catcher of the future after the Braves included Shea Langeliers in the March trade that brought Matt Olson to Atlanta from Oakland.
Which prospects did the Braves trade?
Besides the club’s top prospect in Muller, Freddy Tarnok ranked No. 6 and Royber Salinas sat at No. 18. Muller and Tarnok provided MLB-ready rotation depth behind either Bryce Elder or Mike Soroka, a pair who will battle Ian Anderson for the fifth spot in Spring Training. Kolby Allard is another pitcher who could be used to fill a rotation spot when needed this year.
Muller showed signs of promise while posting a 3.79 ERA in his last six starts for Triple-A Gwinnett last year. But command has always been a concern regarding the big lefty, who walked 13.1 percent of the 214 batters he faced at the big league level over the past two years.
Tarnok’s fastball improved over the past year, but there’s still some concern about his breaking ball. Salinas had a 33.1 percent strikeout rate and a 13.7 percent walk rate while producing a 4.11 ERA over 20 starts at High-A Rome this year. Yeager struck out 32.1 percent of the batters faced at the Double-A level, but also had a 14.7 percent walk rate this year.