Sean Murphy trade regrade: Braves made Cardinals look silly

Now almost six weeks into the season, the offseason catcher “arms race” results are coming into focus. The Atlanta Braves and their Sean Murphy trade are the clear winners, while the St. Louis Cardinals and Willson Contreras are in disaster-management mode.

When the Cardinals abandoned their pursuit of trading for Athletics catcher Sean Murphy, instead signing free agent Willson Contreras in what might go down as the worst decision by the current St. Louis front office, the Braves took full advantage, acquiring Oakland’s emerging star backstop in a trade that now makes the Cardinals’ decision look even more foolish.

The catastrophe unfolding in St. Louis has been well-documented, with the NL-worst 12-24 Cardinals relieving Contreras of his catching duties and possibly setting him up as the scapegoat for the club’s pitching woes. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic calls the signing questionable, which is putting it nicely.

Things couldn’t be more different in Atlanta, where the Braves couldn’t be happier with the addition of Murphy to their squad. They had to part ways with a handful of players and prospects in Esteury Ruiz, Manny Piña, Kyle Muller, Royber Salinas and Freddy Tarnok to get Murphy and reliever Joel Payamps. In return, Murphy has already made a considerable impact on the fortunes of the NL-leading Braves, who at 24-11, own the second-best record in the majors.

Sean Murphy is a leading All-Star and MVP candidate

With his hot start, the 28-year-old is well on his way to a potential first All-Star nod and inclusion in the early MVP conversation. If you pull up a list of league leaders, he sits at the top as the most valuable player in the MLB this season with a 2.2 fWAR. In 31 games with his new club, Murphy has already mashed nine home runs, halfway to his career-high mark of 18. With a solid .282/.426/.621 slash line, his 1.048 OPS leads the entire NL.

Comparing him to other catchers, he’s in a league of his own at the plate right now, sporting a 180 wRC+ and .445 wOBA, well ahead of the rest of the pack. His nine long balls lead all catchers, as do his 28 RBI, .426 OBP and .621 SLG. Behind the dish, the former Gold Glover winner paces all catchers with a 6.7 Defensive rating, per FanGraphs.

The Braves beat the Cardinals with the trade and the extension

Not only did the Cardinals make the wrong choice of backstop, but they’re also stuck with Contreras’ five-year, $87 million contract. This, while Murphy signed on with the Braves for six more years, on top of the remaining three years of club control, for $73 million.

Any way you slice it — offensively, defensively or in the pocketbook — the Braves ran circles around the Cardinals this offseason, and it’s showing up behind the plate and in the standings.

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