Who Won the Kimbrel Trade?

Wow. Craig Kimbrel traded right before the start of the season. I have to admit to being rather shocked. I know the Braves are rebuilding this off-season and it made sense to trade him. He is very highly valued for a player who only pitches 60 innings a season, perhaps over-valued. If the Braves are going to be hopeless this year then who needs a dominant single-inning pitcher?

The trouble is I love watching Kimbrel pitch, no matter the situation. I live in London, in the UK, so a lot of Braves games happen from 1-4am and I don’t get to watch them live. Every morning I use my MLB.com subscription to check the last night’s action. If I don’t have the time to watch the whole game, which is common, I skip to the innings where the Braves scored plus any inning Kimbrel pitches. Pace, a banana curveball and strikeouts, Kimbrel is one of those rare players who is worth watching every minute he plays. Even when he is (rarely) hit you feel a strikeout is coming next. So emotionally, I hate to see him traded (just like I hated seeing Heyward traded). Lots of reporters are saying the trade is a good deal for both sides or an outright win for the Braves, so in emotional despair, I thought I’d have a proper look into it.

The facts of the trade

To the San Diego Padres:

  • Craig Kimbrel – 3 years at $34.75m (includes option buyout) or 4 years at $46.75m
  • Melvin Upton Jr – 3 years at $48.15m

To the Atlanta Braves:

  • Carlos Quentin – 1 year at $11m (includes option buyout) or 2 years at $18m
  • Cameron Maybin – 2 years at $16.2m (includes option buyout) or 3 years at $24.2m
  • 2 prospects and 41st pick 2015 draft

N.B. Bold text highlights the likely choices.

I’ll not be analysing the prospects in much detail, instead ignoring the less relevant trade pieces and looking at the end outcomes. My method is below, but if you like, skip to the summary, that’s the important bit.


From the Padres POV

  • Upton not wanted/needed. Treat him as a league-minimum replacement-level 5th outfielder for 3 years (cost $1.5m). Add the rest of his salary to the Kimbrel contract.
  • Dumped 2 unneeded players and $27.2m in contracts off the books. Remove these values as savings for the Kimbrel contract
  • Gained Craig Kimbrel. Assume option taken (it is great value – see later*). Contract for 4 years at $46.75m – $27.2m (from Quentin and Maybin savings) + $46.65m (Upton cost)
  • Given up 3 prospects (effectively); 1 good (Wisler), 1 risk (Paroubeck) and 1 draft pick

I feel these are all reasonable assumption/treatments. The Padres want Kimbrel, don’t care much about what they get from Upton (assuming he continues as in 2013-14) and used the Quentin and Maybin savings to pay for it all.

From the Braves POV

  • Quentin not wanted/needed (not sure why – seems a better bench bat than most and nobody will trade for him as they know they can get him for minimum once the Braves cut him). Add his contract to the 2015 payroll – $11m
  • Maybin – Assume continues poor health/form and option buyout is taken. Treat as decent defensive replacement OF (23 career DRS in 8 years). Possibly gets 75 games a season but produces nothing more than T.Cunningham in AAA so set effective salary to league minimum – $1m for 2 years. Add rest of his contract to 2015-16 payroll ($15.2m over 2 years)
  • Payroll changes:
    • Savings – Kimbrel ($46.75m – 4 years), Upton ($48.15m – 3 years)
    • Wastings – Quentin ($11m – 1 year), Maybin ($15.2m – 2 years) – both include buyouts
  • Receive 3 prospects (effectively); 1 good (Wisler), 1 risky (Paroubeck) and 1 draft pick

Again, I feel these assumptions/treatments are reasonable. Maybin may produce better than this, but his batting numbers were as bad as M. Upton the last few years (70-80 wRC+) so I don’t think we can expect much more of him than Melvin (apart from his defence being better).


Padres POV

  • Get Craig Kimbrel – effectively 4 years for $66.2m ($16.55m/year)
  • Get spare replacement-level 5th OF at minimum salary for 3 years
  • Lose 3 prospects; 1 good, 1 risky, 1 draft pick

Braves POV

  • Lose Kimbrel (and M.Upton)
  • Get spare replacement-level 4th OF at minimum salary for 2 years
  • Payroll savings $67.7m over 4 years ($16.9m/year average)
  • Get 3 prospects; 1 good, 1 risky, 1 draft pick


Lots of contract money going back and forth, but the end result is that the Braves get payroll savings of around $17m a year for 4 years and 3 prospects and the Padres give up 3 prospects to get Kimbrel at a reasonable free agent price* of around $17m a year for 4 years.

If you consider that the Padres would have lost that 3rd prospect (the draft pick) if they signed Kimbrel as a free agent, the deal starts to look pretty good for San Diego and AJ Preller. The Padres almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to sign Kimbrel as a free agent with other teams competing (everyone needs a Kimbrel and the Dodgers/Yankees/Tigers/Red Sox etc all have the money for him). The contract would certainly have been longer as well (see footnote on Kimbrel’s historic value*). The Padres are paying Kimbrel a lot, but the amount is fair and they didn’t give up much.

The Braves had signed Kimbrel to a much friendlier contract than he would have got as a free agent (he’s homegrown and a Braves fan so gave a large discount – again see footnote*). Kimbrel gets $13m /year for his free-agent years, when he could have had much more. John Hart effectively used Kimbrel’s generosity to swap the spare value for 3 prospects, one of whom is extremely risky (Paroubeck) and one who is completely unknown (the draft pick). The Braves have rid themselves of Upton, but in taking back other contracts they have effectively only saved the money they should have been paying Kimbrel (had he not given a home discount).

In conclusion, John Hart basically declared he didn’t want a well-paid but high-value closer and swapped it for one good (but not great) prospect and two unknown prospects. So how do I feel now? I would have preferred to watch Kimbrel play for my team every week… Enjoy it San Diego.


*A footnote on Kimbrel’s free agent value

Craig Kimbrel is currently 26 years old and 10 months. Below is a summary list of contracts for comparable relievers and their ages when signing.

Reliever Contract Age at signing Average salary/year
David Robertson $46m – 4 years 29 $11.5m
Andrew Miller $36m – 4 years 29 $8.0m
Jonathan Papelbon $50m – 4 years 32 $12.5m
Koji Uehara $18m – 2 years 40 $9.0m
Joe Nathan $20m – 2 years 40 $10.0m
Mariano Rivera 38 $15.0m
Aroldis Chapman (arb2) $8m – 1 year 27
Greg Holland (arb2) $8.25m  – 1 year 29
Kenley Jansen (arb2) $7.425m – 1 year 27


You’ll notice that Kimbrel is younger than them all and although the average yearly value is not as high as Kimbrel’s $13.0m 2016 salary, the elite arbitration-eligible relievers are likely to beat them all (apart from maybe Rivera). If he were a free agent this last winter, you can assume that he would have been offered 5-year (and possibly longer) contracts.

Kimbrel’s career numbers are also historically unprecedented at his age. This has been said many times before, but my favourite Kimbrel stat is the WAR leaders for relievers over the last 10 years. Kimbrel has the 5th highest WAR from 2005-2014. He entered the league at the end of 2010. Since entering the league in 2010 he leads reliever WAR by 1.5 over Holland and Chapman (who have comparable service time). Before signing his (very team friendly) extension Matt Swartz estimated his first year of arbitration salary should be $10.2m. For a detailed analysis of how much Kimbrel is worth I recommend you read his article (http://bit.ly/1GEjKyT). The point being, he is probably worth at least a $17m/year, 4 year contract.













UK based Braves fan. Obsessed with all baseball. Can also explain why cricket is excellent. Background in Physics and Medicine.

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7 years ago

Just a note on Quinten’s $3M buyout. According to Baseball Reference, that is a mutual option that kicks in with 320 games played from 2013-2015. Total games played in 2013+2014 is 132 games. So…the 320 games played from 2013-2015 cannnot happen, so I think that $3M buy-out cannot happen.

And I think the Braves won the trade. Getting rid of BJ was worth it.

Brent Blackwelder
7 years ago

Quentin did not qualify for a buyout based on games missed. Your numbers are different than every other analysis out there.

whole camels
7 years ago

so apparently trading for kimbrel was contingent on also taking “melvin.” i question whether the braves are correct in thinking that clearing upton’s roster spot/salary is more important than keeping him and collecting a truckload of wislers for kimbrel alone, but that could just be because i don’t work for the braves and don’t have any idea how detrimental he was to the rebuilding mentality they’re stressing.

7 years ago

I have a hard time seeing Kimbrel as having taken a “hometown discount.” In fact, many people said it was not a great deal at the time. The fact that he’d have gotten more in free agency (or even in arbitration) ignores the massive financial security he got. Without the deal, he was one injury away from never getting another big payday. Sure, his 2014 salary would have been substantial, but his contract ensured he’d be comfortable for life. I also don’t really recall any media characterizing it as a hometown discount, either.

Other than that, great article, perfect simplification of this trade. It’s ignored that the Padres did in fact get something that is essentially impossible to get in free agency and therefore it makes sense that they paid for it.

Aziz Al-Doory
7 years ago

I also live in Atlanta and don’t recall any talk of a hometown discount for Kimbrel.

Here’s something that doesn’t effect who “won” the trade, but is important from the Braves POV:

Maybin and Quentin will be off the books by 2017, which is when the Braves expect to be good again. Melvin would’ve been a big drag on their 2017 season, and this may have been their only shot to be rid of that baggage in what will be an important year to not have any baggage.

Kimbrel would still be on the books for 2017 as well, and given all the Braves’ young talent, it is likely they will be able to have a pre-arb guy doing their closing. Whoever he is, he won’t be as good as Kimbrel, but the combination of young cheap closer plus over 11 million, if spent wisely, is probably worth more than Kimbrel alone from the perspective of the 2017 Braves.

Like you, I’ll miss him, but I think this was a slam dunk for the Braves. Not that the Padres did badly at all, but the move is exactly what the Braves needed to do for 2017. We’re talking almost $30 million freed up for the beginning of their push. That’s enormous.

7 years ago

I’m a UK-based (London) Dodgers/Jays fan. Loves all baseball. Thinks cricket is also excellent. Background in Immunology. We should meet up sometime to talk baseball over a pint.