The Braves have acquired infielder Nicky Lopez from the Royals in a one-for-one swap that will send left-hander Taylor Hearn to Kansas City. The Braves have officially announced the deal, and MLB.com’s Anne Rogers was the first to report that Lopez was on his way to Atlanta.
Like most Royals players this season, Lopez has had an underwhelming year with the bat, hitting .210/.322/.280 over 187 plate appearances. Lopez’s hitting has never been as much of a calling card as his defense, and he has delivered his usual above-average glovework backing up the infield at second base, third base, and shortstop.
He’ll bring that same versatile depth to the Braves, though Lopez’s playing time figures to be at a premium since Atlanta generally keeps its starters (including the infield core of Ozzie Albies, Orlando Arcia, and Austin Riley) in the lineup at all times, even to the point of usually foregoing late-game defensive substitutions. Still, with a big lead in the NL West, the Braves might look to give their regulars some extra rest going into the postseason, and Lopez at least provides some experienced depth if case an injury situation does arise.
Now in his fifth MLB season, Lopez has largely been a glove-first player who has seemed like a bit of a placeholder as Kansas City waited for its next wave of prospects (such as Bobby Witt Jr.) to reach the Show. However, Lopez worked his way into a larger share of playing time, particularly after his quietly outstanding 2021 campaign. Lopez had the 11th-best fWAR (6.0) of any player in baseball that season, pairing spectacular defense and baserunning with an above-average .300/.365/.378 slash line over 565 plate appearances.
In hindsight, the Royals perhaps might have looked at selling high on Lopez in the wake of that big season, though it’s understandable why K.C. would’ve also wanted to hang onto a possible hidden gem of a breakout player. Moving the 28-year-old now officially turns the page on Lopez’s era in Kansas City, even though he was still under team control through the 2025 campaign. It’s not a bad pickup for the Braves to land a depth option who can help now and potentially in future years, though Lopez will be due a raise on his $3.7MM salary this winter, and might be a non-tender candidate if Atlanta wants to trim its list of arbitration-eligibles.
Hearn finds himself on the move for the second time in less than a week, as the Braves just picked up the southpaw on July 24 in another trade that sent cash considerations to the Rangers. Given that Texas had designated Hearn for assignment prior to working out the deal with Atlanta, it is a little curious that the Royals are surrendering Lopez to acquire him now rather than acquiring him at a lower cost shortly after his first DFA. It’s possible this could be a precursor to another move. Hearn’s ability to work as a reliever or a starter could allow him to fill several holes in Kansas City’s pitching staff should the Royals be on the verge of dealing from their rotation or bullpen before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Austin Cox is the only other left-hander in the Royals’ bullpen, so Hearn also fits a more immediate need.
Hearn’s tenure in Atlanta ends after a single ignominious appearance, as he allowed four runs in one-third of an inning in Saturday’s 11-5 win over the Brewers. That gives him a 14.73 ERA in 7 1/3 total innings in 2023 with the Braves and Rangers, though Hearn’s 3.66 ERA in 39 1/3 innings for the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate is far more palatable.
Prior to Saturday, all of Hearn’s previous MLB experience had come with Texas, as he posted a 4.95 ERA over 222 innings from 2019-22 while starting 25 of his 88 games. The lefty’s numbers as a reliever have been much better than his work out of the rotation, so a long relief role might be Hearn’s best option for the future. Hearn doesn’t miss many bats (21.6% career strikeout rate), nor has he been great at limiting free passes, with a 10.5% walk rate over his time in the big leagues.