The Oakland A’s want two position players fit for the majors in place of receiver Sean Murphy. The Warriors aren’t planning to trade Vaughn Grissom, and they’re grooming Dansby Swanson, a free agent who could potentially replace shortstop. The A’s don’t need William Contreras, after acquiring another catcher, Shea Langeliers, from the Braves in the Matt Olson trade nine months ago.
In fact, the two teams did not play. But on Tuesday, the Warriors got Murphy anyway, parting ways with six players in a three-team trade. Contreras and minor league right-hander Justin Yeager went to the Brewers, along with backup Joel Payamps from the A’s. Lefty Kyle Muller, catcher Manny Piña and minor league righties Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas made it to the A’s, with Muller taking the second spot Oakland couldn’t get.
Two separate events led to the deal, according to a source familiar with the discussions. The first was when the Cardinals waived Murphy to sign Contreras’ older brother, Wilson Contreras, to a four-year, $87.5 million free-agent contract. The second is that the Braves were willing to send William Contreras to the Brewers so they could get access to center fielder Esteli Ruiz, a player the A’s confirmed to the club they wanted. To Murphy’s player.
Ruiz will turn 24 on February 2. No. 15, was part of the Brewers’ return for Josh Hader at the trade deadline. His arrival in Oakland could jeopardize the future of Christian Pazzi, another player the A’s acquired in the Olson trade. Ruiz finished the season with a . 447 on-base percentage in 541 Double-A and Triple-A appearances. He also stole 85 bases in 99 attempts and should benefit from baseball’s new rules introduced in 2023 to strengthen stolen bases — bigger bases, catch and step limits, a pitch clock.
Why would the Brewers trade such an athlete? Because in William Contreras, they’re getting a different type of athlete, a 2022 All-Star, who they believe their coach can help improve defensively, even if the Warriors see him more as a hit-first catcher. Why would A value Ruiz so much given his lack of power? Because they like his speed and ability to play center. Because he improved his contact rate and walk rate last season. And because they never agreed to a trade with the Cardinals.
St. The Louis Post-Dispatch, citing sources, said the A’s are seeking a Cardinals return that includes outfielder Lars Nootbaar, Gold Glove winner Brendan Donovan and strong young pitchers like Gordon Graceffo. However, another source with knowledge of the talks said the A’s wanted Nootbaar or Donovan plus Graceffo. Rather than trade any of those players, the Cardinals want the A’s to buy from outfielder Dylan Carlson, second baseman Nolan Gorman, outfielder Alec Burleson and first baseman Juan Yepez. Choose two from a group of four.
When the team couldn’t come to an agreement, the Cardinals signed Wilson Contreras, giving up their No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft and $500,000 from the international bonus pool, but kept them. All young talent. An assessment of the Murphy deal, then, would include an analysis of whether the Cardinals would be better off trading the 28-year-old Murphy for three years than signing Contreras, who turns 31 on May 13, the largest in club history. Trade a free agent from another club. The problems don’t end there.
Is this trade necessary for the Warriors? Are they giving up too much? The answer won’t be immediately apparent, and it could change if the Warriors sign Murphy to one of their patented long-term extensions. Still, William Contreras, Piña and Travis d’Arnaud helped the team post the highest catcher OPS of any team last season. Contreras, who hits the ball with his right hand but produces the opposite field power like a left-handed slugger, was held by the club for another five years.
One fascinating aspect of this deal is that the Braves set a high bar for their catchers on the defensive end and consider William Contreras to be similar to Wilson, only behind the plate enough. Brewers general manager Matt Arnold, on the other hand, noted that Peena, Yasmani Grandal and Omar Narvaz became better defenders under the guidance of the Milwaukee staff, suggesting he believes William can do that too.
Other products from Brewers are less appealing. Payamps is one of two pitchers they acquired and will likely be assigned by the A’s, who need to clear the 40-man roster spot. Another pitcher, Yeager, is not protected by the Braves and was not selected in the most recent Rule 5 draft.
Muller, Tanok and Salinas, the three pitchers who transferred from the Warriors to the A’s, were rated more highly. Mueller sits low on the Warriors’ depth chart and likely has no options at season’s end, but the A’s believe he has nothing left to prove in the Triple A. Tarnok is also part of the Braves’ top 40-man roster, and the A’s see him as a potential 100-mph reliever. Salinas was more of a lottery ticket, allowing 175 strikeouts in 109 innings with two Class-A balls last season.
An executive on another team that wanted Murphy described the A’s return as “meh,” and said the message from Oakland was “never volume, but your best two.” As is often the case in baseball deals, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And for A, a lot depends on Ruiz.
If the A’s wanted William Contreras, they could have made this deal directly with the Braves, excluding the Brewers. But the A’s only started accepting offers for Murphy at the trade deadline because they were trading from a catcher’s strong position.
Langeliers is entering his first full season. Tyler Soderstrom, A’s No. 1 prospect, the team’s 2020 first-round pick, could end up as first base instead of catcher, according to MLB Pipeline. Daniel Susak, the team’s 2022 first-round pick and the No. 1 pick. 4 Prospects, farther away from the market, but may stay behind the plate.
Meanwhile, Ruiz could be the A’s long-term solution at center, another top-middle spot. He appeared in just three games for the Brewers during his one-week draft, but was impressive. “He’s really mature,” one Brewer said. “Billy Hamilton is fast, he has an aggressive swing, he has an idea at home plate. A 60 to 70 stolen bases type. Impressive in the short term. Not subject to MLB influences.”
He was the catalyst for a three-team, nine-man trade on Monday. A thinks he can be more of a catalyst.
(Top photo by Sean Murphy: G Fiume/Getty Images)