Braves trade Matt Kemp to Dodgers in five-player blockbuster

ATLANTA — Matt Kemp is heading back to Los Angeles and the path is officially cleared for superstar prospect Ronald Acuña after the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers completed an expensive five-player blockbuster two days removed from the 2017 Winter Meetings.

Los Angeles sent veteran pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir, utility option Charlie Culberson, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and cash considerations to Atlanta in exchange for Kemp. The Braves officially released Gonzalez, who waived his no-trade clause to complete the transaction, on Dec. 18 to allow him a chance to earn significant playing time in 2018.

“Every player that we got back is on an expiring contract, on a one-year deal. Matt (Kemp) had two years left on his deal. There was certainly some appeal to having the money put into 2018 rather than 2019. So that was certainly attractive to us just to free up some things going forward,” Anthopoulos said. “And look, we knew we had an outfield logjam right now with Matt under control for two years. That was going to continue into next year.”

Atlanta’s 40-man roster is now full.

The Dodgers reportedly sent $4.5 million to balance out the two salary dumps.

For Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was hired from Los Angeles earlier this offseason, the trade checks a variety of boxes.

By trading the $36 million obligation still owed to Kemp through 2019 and acquiring approximately $50 million in salary due to pending free agents Gonzalez, McCarthy and Kazmir, the Braves allocated funds into one-year deals, providing the front office with more financial flexibility next offseason.

Moving the team’s everyday left fielder also opens the door for Acuña, arguably the No. 1 prospect in baseball, to start for Atlanta as a 20-year-old next season.

By trading Kemp instead of Nick Markakis, the team’s veteran right fielder on the final year of his contract, the Braves likely upgraded the potential of their 2018 outfield. (Though trading Markakis should not be ruled out, by any means.) Despite declining offensive numbers, Markakis graded out nearly 1.5 wins better than Kemp and offers more upside in the field.

Still, transitioning from Kemp to Acuña — a five-tool prospect who was named Baseball America’s Minor-League Player of the Year after putting up teenage numbers rivaling those of Andruw Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield — should provide an immediate upgrade. Anthopoulos confirmed Acuña will be challenging for a spot on the Opening Day roster in spring training, though service time considerations could prompt the Braves to let him start the year in Triple-A.

“We expect Ronald Acuña to factor in at some point in 2018,” Anthopoulos said. “Early, middle, late? I’m not sure. We’ll continue to evaluate. … When he’s ready to go, certainly a move like this won’t hurt.”

Adding McCarthy and, to a lesser extent, Kazmir to the rotation mix could help the Braves’ young pitching staff as well. In just 92 2/3 innings pitched last season, the 34-year-old McCarthy was lights-out for the National League champions, posting a 3.98 ERA with 2.4 wins above replacement, which would have led all Atlanta pitchers last season. The right-hander made three different trips to the disabled list — knee tendinitis, dislocated left shoulder, blister on throwing hand — but was added to the Dodgers’ World Series roster.

“We have a lot of young arms. We don’t know that they’ve all been able to show they can throw 200 innings, perform over 200 innings,” Anthopoulos said. “We’re gonna need that depth.”

Anthopoulos spoke with Kazmir over the phone after the deal, saying the veteran left-hander was “encouraged” by his offseason work after missing the entire 2017 campaign with a left hip injury. Kazmir, 33, is considered a worthwhile lottery ticket for a team still in need of major-league pitching depth.

Culberson, another former first-round pick, steps in as a defense-first utility option, a need Anthopoulos previously noted during Winter Meetings. The 28-year-old has played sparingly for the Giants, Rockies and Dodgers, but Anthopoulos described his glove as “Gold Glove-caliber” exiting a successful postseason where he logged five hits, including two doubles and a triple. Atlanta non-tendered 2017 bench options Matt Adams, Jace Peterson and Danny Santana earlier in December.

“We fill two spots on the roster that we were going to look to do something with anyways,” said Anthopoulos, referencing McCarthy and Culberson. Along with McCarthy, Kazmir and Culberson, Anthopoulos added former Dodger relievers Grant Dayton and Josh Ravin.

For Los Angeles, the Kemp reunion centers around money as well.

By shedding the Gonzalez, McCarthy and Kazmir contracts, Los Angeles can dip under the $197 million luxury tax threshold — the Dodgers paid more than $30 million in taxes for their World Series run; the penalty rate would now drop from 50 percent of every dollar spent to 20 percent — for the first time in six years. It appears both franchises are gearing up for the hyped 2018 free-agent class which could include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others.

In 171 games in a Braves uniform, the 33-year-old Kemp slashed .278/.324/.482 with 31 home runs, primarily hitting behind Freddie Freeman in Atlanta’s lineup. The former Dodgers star, who the Braves acquired in their second Hector Olivera trade with the San Diego Padres at the 2016 trade deadline, struggled with hamstring issues last season and, as a viable trade candidate, may not suit up for his former team.