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MLB free agency: How Braves' Sean Murphy trade affects NL East

Major NL East activity continues with Braves’ big trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It had been a quiet offseason for the Braves prior to Monday’s three-team, nine-player trade with the Athletics and Brewers that sent Oakland’s former catcher, Sean Murphy, to Atlanta.

The Braves get a 28-year-old starting catcher in Murphy who was a Gold Glover in 2021 and one of the better backstops in the game in 2022 when he hit .250/.332/.426 with 37 doubles and 18 homers, numbers suppressed by Oakland’s giant ballpark. He has consistently graded out as a top defensive catcher.

The Braves parted with another catcher, 2022 All-Star William Contreras, in the deal, as well as their top prospect, left-handed pitcher Kyle Muller.

Murphy should slot into the five-six range in the Braves’ lineup, which currently doesn’t have Dansby Swanson and might not have him at all. The Braves and Swanson appear to be far apart in their valuation of his next contract and reportedly have not communicated much this offseason. Atlanta is also up against the first luxury tax threshold of $233 million and is much less likely to pay the tax than the Mets or Phillies.

If Swanson doesn’t return to the Braves, it will likely be Vaughn Grissom at shortstop. The Braves broke in the soon-to-be-22-year-old last season to fill in for injured second baseman Ozzie Albies and Grissom hit .291 with an OPS just under .800 in 156 plate appearances, finding instant success like so many other Braves rookies in recent seasons.

Beyond Swanson, the Braves lost free agent Kenley Jansen to the Red Sox. Jansen did have his stumbles late in the year but led the National League with 41 saves and 54 games finished, striking out 85 in 64 innings with a 3.38 ERA. Raisel Iglesias can slide into the closer’s role but it could create another hole in the seventh or eighth inning.

The Braves’ only offseason addition of note other than Murphy has been former Rays reliever Nick Anderson, an elite bullpen arm in 2019 and 2020 who has dealt with major injury the last two seasons. Anderson and former Padres closer Kirby Yates, an All-Star in 2019 when he had 41 saves with a 1.19 ERA, are X-factors in that Atlanta bullpen as both are looking to recapture their form after several injury-plagued years.

The Mets, coming off a 101-win season that ended abruptly, have been much more active. They’ve added starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana and Kodai Senga, re-signed closer Edwin Diaz and outfielder Brandon Nimmo and agreed to a one-year deal with former Phils reliever David Robertson.

New guys make up 80% of the Mets’ rotation with Carlos Carrasco the only holdover. Gone are Jacob deGrom (Rangers), Chris Bassitt (Blue Jays) and Taijuan Walker (Phillies).

The Mets’ MLB-record payroll is well past the fourth and final luxury tax threshold of $293 million. Their current payroll estimate from a luxury tax perspective is $349,573,333, according to Roster Resource. That would result in a tax bill of an estimated $76 million.

For perspective, the Mets’ payroll from a luxury tax perspective — excluding the penalty they’ll pay — is currently $108 million higher than the Phillies’ and $160 million more than the Dodgers‘. They’re outspending the Yankees by more than $80 million.

Under owner Steve Cohen, the Mets have been trying to contend immediately without a strong farm system and with relatively few homegrown stars. They have built a roster that can win a bunch of games again in 2022 but also one that is overly dependent on Verlander and Scherzer entering their age-40 and age-39 seasons, respectively. That duo accounts for a quarter of the Mets’ payroll.

It should be another three-team race in the NL East, with the Marlins and Nationals bringing up the rear. MLB’s schedule is now balanced to allow for every team to face the other 29, so there won’t be as much of an opportunity for one head-to-head matchup to skew the standings. The Phillies went 5-14 against the Mets in 2022 but 16-3 against the Nationals, the best record any MLB team had against another. Instead of six series and 19 games apiece, there will be four series and 13 games for division rivals in 2023.

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