A path was cleared for wunderkind Ronald Acuna as the Braves moved the albatross of Matt Kemp’s contract with Saturday’s stunning five-player trade with the Dodgers.
But this deal also had met one of new general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ goals, adding a veteran starter on the last year of his deal in right-hander Brandon McCarthy to supplement a young rotation.
“We have a lot of young arms,” said Anthopoulos, who added that he expects McCarthy to make the starting staff. “We don’t know that they’re all going to necessarily be able to go 200 innings. We need that depth. It’s going to be really important.”
The 34-year-old was 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 105 ERA+ in 92 2/3 innings over 19 games (16 starts) with the Dodgers last season. He missed half of the year with a shoulder injury and blisters, and was still a 2.4 WAR pitcher.
2018 #Braves rotation now looking like Teheran, Foltynewicz, Gohara, Newcomb, McCarthy.
— Cory McCartney (@coryjmccartney) December 16, 2017
Of note, that would have led the Braves last season, who were topped by Mike Foltynewicz’s 1.8 WAR.
Those innings were the most innings McCarthy has thrown since 2014 when he hit the 200-inning mark for the first time, and the past three have seen a combined 155 2/3 innings.
But while his 2017 was abbreviated, was the most effective the 12-year veteran had ever been with his fastball, with a wFB of 4.4. That was the first time that figure had been in the positives since 2013 (3.4), and McCarthy complimented that with a cutters (3.6) that was at its best since 2012 (5.5).
It should come as no surprise that if anyone would bank on that being replicable in a healthy season it would be Anthopoulos, who saw McCarthy the past two seasons while working in the Dodgers front office. Since taking over in Atlanta, the GM had already added Grant Dayton and Josh Ravin from Los Angeles and now Charlie Culberson and Scott Kazmir as part of this deal.
Now, just as the Braves did a year ago in bringing in Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey on one-year deals and trading for Jaime Garcia, they are looking to McCarthy not only as a stabilizer, but also a buffer while young arms continue to develop.
The Braves have a group of projected starters all under 27 in Julio Teheran (26), Mike Foltynewicz (26), Sean Newcomb (24) and Luiz Gohara (20), and were expected to look to in-house options like Lucas Sims (23) and Max Fried (23) if they didn’t add another arm. Not to mention the next wave of pitchers, with the likelihood that reigning organization Pitcher of the Year, Mike Soroka, and others could vie for playing time.
Atlanta saw positives with Fried (113 ERA+ in 26 innings) and Sims (5.62 ERA and 76 ERA+ in 57 2/3) in the first tastes of the majors last season, and while some of the luster has been stripped from Matt Wisler (52 ERA+) and Aaron Blair (32 ERA+), they remain factors.
Acquiring McCarthy doesn’t change their potentials. If he’s as effective in a Braves uniform as he was for Los Angeles last season, which included him landing on the World Series roster, he could provide a trade chip.
Getting that desired veteran arm, and coming with the added bonus of ridding themselves of Kemp’s deal and a hurdle to putting baseball’s No. 1 prospect in Acuna, made it an added bonus since the Braves didn’t have to enter the free-agent market.
Along with the McCarthy — who is due $10 million in the last year of his deal — Atlanta also received Scott Kazmir. But the 33-year-old missed all of last season with a hip injury and fatigued left arm and Anthopoulos said the Braves aren’t looking for a definite output from the three-time All-Star.
He’s basically a lottery ticket, with Atlanta obviously welcoming the return it he’s again the 2.0-plus WAR player Kazmir was in 2013-15. But like McCarthy, he’s also in the final year of his contract at $17.7 million.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.