Sunday, April 5, 2015

See ya, Craig and Melvin!

Over the next three posts, I will explore the mega deal that has sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton to the San Diego Padres for Cameron Maybin, Jordan Paroubeck, Matt Wisler, the 41st overall selection of the 2015 draft, and, for about five minutes, Carlos Quentin. I'll look at who's gone, who's coming to the Braves, and finally, I'll jump over to the About.com blog and look at the trade.

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Four years.

That's how long Kimbrel served as the Braves closer. In four years, he became the franchise's leader in saves, garnered well-earned Cy Young and MVP votes, and cruised to the 2010 Rookie of the Year.

Just four years? Well, technically, it's four years and change because he arrived on the scene in 2009, but he really arrived the following year. He has saved 186 games in the majors, including leading the lead in saves in each of the last four years. He has more K's, 476, than any other reliever since the start of 2010. Pretty solid for a guy who only pitches an inning if the Braves are ahead.

A third rounder out of a thoroughly unproductive 2008 draft, Kimbrel was a star in the making in the minor leagues even as his fastball often went exploring outside of the strikezone. Now, we know him as the best closer in baseball, but there were significant questions if Kimbrel had the ability to harness his undeniable stuff. His walk rate was an embarrassing 5.7 BB/9, but the Braves believed that with experience and the coaching of Roger McDowell, things would work out.

After Billy Wagner's retirement, Kimbrel ascended to his role and that was that. He was the best. With velocity approaching triple digits that simply would not stay straight to go with a spiked curveball that fooled the greatest into looking like AAAA riff-raff, Kimbrel was often unhittable. He was so good that when his fastball jumped away from where it was intended, he still found a way to get outs.

It was a comfort to know that when the ninth inning arrived and Kimbrel came out of the bullpen, the Braves were using not only their best option to close, but the best option. But, sadly, all good things must come to an end. Whether it was the salary relief or the thinking that an elite closer was wasted on a bad team, the Braves moved Kimbrel on Sunday.

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They also moved Melvin Upton, though I imagine less people are upset about that part. There are few bigger failures than Upton. When he signed with the Braves for $72.25M early on in the 2012-13 shopping frenzy, it was a surprise to many who wanted Michael Bourn to return. Upton was who he was. A speedy outfielder with good, but not great defense in center and very good power. He also struck out. A ton. But Atlanta knew that and bought into the guy who averaged .242/.317/.436 with 23 HR and 36 steals in the three years leading up to free agency.

About that...

To say that Upton in Atlanta didn't work would be the understatement of understatements. In 2013, he fell on his face to such a degree that it made us endure Evan Gattis in left field. He slumped to a .184 average and hit just 9 homers and stole 12 bases. In fact, his output in those two categories over two years didn't match what the Braves thought they were buying (21 HR, 32 SB). It was an epic failure and amazingly, Upton improved his OPS more than sixty points in 2014, but still hit just .208 while striking out once for every total base (173). His defense, which was subject to mental lapses here and there, was underrated in Atlanta, but his offense was non-existent.

To his credit, Upton worked hard this offseason with new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. There were signs that maybe he could snap out of it. Maybe he could on-base .320 and his slugging back over .400. Maybe he could start to get back to what made him a decent option with Tampa Bay.

If he does, it will be with the Padres after Sunday's trade. The Braves needed to move on. Melvin re-joins his brother in San Diego after the latter's trade last winter. I wish him only the best, but it's going to be even harder to round back into form with that outfield in front of him.

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