Nationals Baseball: Why Murphy?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Murphy?

While we sit here and wonder when exactly this deal will be finalized* the big question that sits out there is why would the Nats go with Daniel Murphy.

The obvious first answer is that the Nats need another MI. That's simply the truth. They could go with Danny Espinosa and he might be fine. Certainly his defense will be solid if not better. But man, weren't you around for the second half of the year? The .206 / .259 / .346 second half? Danny is a great defender and a source of some pop. But he also can't hit and strikes out too much and was terrible in 2014 and made grown men cry in 2013. Add it up and he's a great bench player but a bad gamble as a starter.

Daniel Murphy is a good gamble as a starter. Consistently providing a level of offense that offsets his mediocre? poor? not terrible? defense. He will hit .280-.290.  He will hit for just enough power. He will make contact. Defensive issues can be hidden, worked around, camoflauged, or you can get lucky and just have a year where the balls aren't hit in the areas that matter. Offensive issues rarely disappear like that. That's why Danny is a bench player and Murphy is a starter.

But still Yunel Escobar hit .314 with almost "just enough power". Why not just stick with Yunel Escobar?  Well Yunel Escobar in a matter of just two years, has seemingly proved himself worse in the field than Murphy. Whereas Murphy is ill-suited for 2B but occasionally passable in other less demanding positions, like third base, Escobar just spent a year proving he wasn't even suited for third. At the plate 2015 Yunel was essentially a match for Murphy, but he is also historically not this good of a hitter. The assumption has to be that average will drop and if things revert back to "normal" as opposed to a middle ground... well Yunel would be an negative everywhere. Should we worry about such a drop? For 33 year old Yunel who has collapsed on the field, I'd say yes, yes we should. Murphy, 31 in April, doesn't have the same age issue.

Espinosa is a gamble. Murphy is security. Escobar can't be relied on. Murphy is stability.

So... great?  Well there is another side. Like I said Murphy is ill-suited at 2B. You'd want to play him somewhere else. LF, 1B, 3B. What would be best for the Nats is Rendon at 2B and Murphy at 3B but I think the reverse will happen. While Murphy gives the Nats the LHB and contact stats they need, he doesn't give them the patience or power that they need too. He doesn't walk and his power is merely ok. When playing second he's an imperfect solution. Also we must consider that the Nats paying a premium for a post-season that was almost certainly a fluke. If the Nats are a strict budget team (we'll find out this year) then that could hamper improvements in the upcoming seasons.

My feeling is that Murphy, for 2016, is a solid addition to the team but should not be a singular one. He is not the impact bat I think is needed with the injury risk this offense continues to be. It's doubtful the Nats will now pay in money or prospects to add an all-in-one impact bat (if one is even still available) so perhaps they will find a way to get a complementary bat who provides a little patience and pop without breaking the bank (Dexter Fowler?) or someone that will provide one of those things in spades (trade for Khris Davis?). At three years, the contract doesn't bother me at all. I like it as he's likely to give value all three years. If you are building a "Bryce Time" team that contract means he slates in perfectly.

If this ends the Nats dealings for the off-season then it's bad, but there is no reason to think it will. This is one brick. Let's see what Rizzo builds.

*My guess continues to be once Papelbon or Storen are dumped to some team that will eat that salary. I found the Escobar trade then Kelley deal goes through timing suspicious and assume all Nats trades need some sort monetary balance.  So I will only believe that this won't be the case when it is actually not the case


Anonymous said...

Harper, if you think the terms of the deal are fair, why do you think the Nats are paying a premium for Murphy's postseason performance? That would make sense only if you thought the deal was an overpay...

I think Murphy is fine. He's a good bet to have a better season at the plate than Escobar, plus he's left-handed. Is that worth 2x the salary plus a draft pick? I'm not sure. I suppose the relevant way to frame the tradeoff is this: Is Gott + Murphy worth more than Escobar + 1st Rd Pick + ~$5-6 million? The win-now team almost certainly favors the Gott/Murphy side of that.

Now that the Nats have forfeited the 1st Rd pick, they should really sign another FA. Fowler's not a bad idea, but I think Gordon is the choice.

Donald said...

I think the overpay is in losing the compensation pick. Had Murphy not had that terrific post-season, he probably wouldn't have gotten a qualifying offer and would still have signed a comparable contract to what the Nats gave him. So it seems like his post-season cost the Nats that pick.

Chaz R said...

The more I look at the Murphy deal, the more I like it. At first, I thought it was not the first choice, but not terrible. I think it's actually good now, as long as there is at least one more move for a reliable OF bat. I would prefer not to move Harper to CF and have to work through any potential issues associated with that, particularly any affect on his offense. So, I think I most favor Fowler or taking a chance on Span. They both hit from the left side; Fowler switch hits (even better).

Positively Half St. said...

As lukewarm as I have been about this deal, it still seems better than the potential Brandon Phillips trade. He is 3 years older, and suspect when it comes to offense. My biggest thought, though, was that people are upset about losing the 17th pick, but forget that Phillips would have cost a few prospects who are closer to the majors, and probably even more money. Once you get to pick 17, you aren't talking about a sure thing. The prospects might not have been our best ones, but they would have been good enough for Cincinnati to want them in exchange for one of their most popular players.

blovy8 said...

That's an interesting theory, but they can certainly afford Storen if my rough estimates below are correct, because it only eats into the Span savings.

Perez for Thornton
Petit for Stammen (although Stammen would have made less if he stayed, it's close enough)
Kelley for Escobar after the money going to the Angels
Papelbon for Fister
Murphy equals Desmond if you consider that Gott will make league minimum instead of the 2M extra they would have owed Janssen to pitch here instead of the buyout

Estimated arbitration and contract raises:
Scherzer +5M, Gio +1M, Strasburg probably +3M, Ramos probably +1.5, Espinosa +1M, Harper +2.5, about 1M for raises to Moore, Lobaton, and the other non-arb guys like Taylor, den Dekker, Robinson, etc. filling spots. I'll say 15M and add in that whoever else comes in for the middle infield spot if no moves are made at this point will maybe make a little extra, so say 16.5 million. That is Zimmermann money.

Span's 9 million is still laying around in the budget. Once they trade Storen that's about 15 million from last year's level to use. Then, if the Nats give up more value in prospects to get Colorado to kick in around 3.5M a year of CarGo's salary, your theory is proven as far as I'm concerned. But that would be too simple...

Harper said...

Well - i'd say it this way. The Nats are paying for Muprhy based on what he did last year. More power than usual, the playoff performance, all of it. That sets a value. The Nats paid a fair number based on that. Does that make sense? And really what I think is that the Nats may have paid some $ for playoff performance to be expected to be repeated (in some way - obviously not homers every game - but a good performance for a team that hasn't had many good playoff performances at the plate) and I don't know if that's possible.

Donald - if a pick isn't in the first 5 or so, I don't care. lose it.

Chaz R - I like it, but I see why it came this far down the line. Zobrist is a worse long term deal but a perfect fit for 2016 (and 2015 but we can't live in the past). Heyward is a better long term deal. Phillips probably would have freed up more $ for a second deal (assuming Reds ate some $) and is a shorter contract. We're starting to look at FA and see guys who don't fit really or we may worry about bad deals more. Murphy still gets a good fit for good time frame.

1/2 st > 0 - I think Murphy > Phillips. But Phillips+ is likely > Murphy+ assuming the money freed. Yeah - I agree - the 17th pick is whateversville.

Harper said...

blovy8 - That sound right- but that's only if last year's level is where they are ending up.

Adam Von Blon said...

Keep Rendon at 3rd where he is comfortable, if and when he and Zimmerman get hurt, slide Murphy over. Murphy is a younger defensively-challenged Zobrist on a friendly deal, what's not to like?

Strike a deal for Blackmon in Colorado and the lineup is set.

ProphetNAT said...

Still not sure why Gerrardo Parra hasn't been considered?

Adam VB said...

Keep Rendon at 3rd where he is comfortable, if and when he and Zimmerman get hurt, slide Murphy over. Murphy is a younger defensively-challenged Zobrist on a friendly deal, what's not to like?

Strike a deal for Blackmon in Colorado and the lineup is set.

Chaz R said...

I would think Parra would be a consideration, his defensive numbers have been sliding though. I think he would have to play in an OF corner, and Bryce would still have to move to CF.

Blackmon is a good idea, I haven his name pop up on other blogs. I think it really comes down to Blackmon, Fowler, and taking a chance on Span. Otherwise, Bryce would need to be moved to CF.

Jay said...

I agree with Chaz R. I'd go with Blackmon. Left handed. Play CF. Batted leadoff for Col. Stole a good number of bases as well. Second choice would be Fowler. Span on a one year deal would be right there with Fowler.

blovy8 said...

Harper, if they don't spend it now, that means they can finally make a deadline deal that adds payroll! Hey, a fella can dream.

Harper said...

Adam Von Blon - You nailed it! You should be GM!
Adam VB - That's the stupidest thing I've ever read!

ProphetNat - Parra might have too high demands - looks like he's holding out for 4 years.

Chaz R / Jay _ Blackmon worries me. All Rockies players that skirt the edge of good worry me.

Blovy8 - That would certainly work to delay anger from Nats fans "We could have spent more on payroll but didn't find anything at a price we thought would be helpful. So we decided to keep the team as is and reserve that money for later moves" Fanbase would be quiet until July/August and maybe you'd be out of it then and wouldn't be pressured to spend money.

Froggy said...

Harper, why would we worry about Blackmon if he is under team control for the next three years? I realize that his home/road splits are somewhat extreme but it would seem that being a lefty bat CF (...and that he has ripped 71 bags in the past two years) might be consideration for the lead-off piece we are missing. And he wouldn't cost us much, no?

Harper said...

If home road splits are to be believed (and always a hard read for Colorado guys) then he might be a 4th OF type. Like a Danny Espinosa for the OF. That's worth having around but above say MAT? I don't know. I'd like to have Blackmon, I just don't know if he'll end up being a starter and at 29 I don't know if he's suddenly going to become that. I guess it depends on what they pay and what role. Bring him in for a reasonable deal and not automatically a starter and I'm all for it.

G Cracka X said...

Now that the Yanks got Chapman, should the Nats try to trade for Betances or Miller?

G Cracka X said...

Yes, I know the official line is that they want to keep both those guys, but I bet the Nats could offer some intriguing starting pitching prospects that the Yanks might be interested in

John C. said...

The Nationals didn't pay for the playoff Murphy, they paid for getting a 30yo (when he's at the end of this deal, he'll be younger than Phillips and Zobrist are now) player with some positional flexibility whose defense is bad at 2b, horrific in the OF, mediocre at 3b and actually a bit good at 1b. Both experts and crowdsourcing at Fangraphs (which typically underestimates free agent contracts) had him going for significantly more than the Nats paid. The going estimates thought it would take four years for between $48-$60M to sign Murphy - not 3 for $37.5M. Further, $4M of Murphy's 2016 salary is deferred until 2020 (until the MASN problem is settled). Even allowing $10+M in value for the #17 pick it's not a bad deal. Heck, and article in Beyond the Box Score looked at the deal and offered that Murphy completely mishandled his free agency and allowed the Nats to get a bargain:

Interesting possible upside for Murphy: although most batters do better playing at home, Murphy has consistently done better away from Citi Field (which makes sense, since it's not an offense-friendly park). Murphy’s H/R OPS:

H: .707 A: .832
H: .652 A: .805
H: .679 A: .785

If Murphy gets a post-Citi bounce, the Nats may get a bit more out of this signing than some expect.

blovy8 said...

I agree that this deal is somewhat of a bargain for Murphy in the pure salary and length of contract sense; it's losing the pick that makes the contract roughly market value for the Nats. A team with a protected pick could have easily outbid this deal without feeling terrible. As John C.'s splits would indicate, I'm frankly somewhat surprised a team with a more reasonable hitting park than the Mets had didn't consider him as a corner guy at this price. For instance, I suspected Milwaukee could use him, but I guess since if they're in full rebuild mode, it just didn't matter.

Jay said...

I vote trade for Andrew Miller and let Palpebon go. Keep Storen. Bullpen then set.

blovy8 said...

OK, where'd that 3 million for Drew come from? Seems to me like he shouldn't have even gotten a major-league contract after the last two seasons. I wonder how much of it is deferred?

DezoPenguin said...

Okay, I'm willing to accept that Murphy at least offers a predictable expectation (barring random injury) that his total value to the team at 2B will be equal to Espinosa's upside (though with offense instead of defense). He provides a useful bat, some positional versatility (such as a move to 1B or 3B if Zim or Rendon gets nailed by the seemingly-inevitable injury bug), and a track record of reliability plus reasonable youth over the length of his contract.

I have *no* reason why we just signed Stephen Drew. Or rather, I have a pretty good reason why we did it, and I don't like it: Rizzo and Baker don't think Espinosa can play at all. 2014 Espi was a horror show and he was still better than Drew. 2015 Espi was straight-up better than Drew. Drew is considerably older and trending down.

Similarly, Rizzo and Baker very obviously don't expect Turner to play any time soon (if the plan was to bring him up in May to take over at SS with Espi being the backup MI, there's no way they're spending $3M on a veteran fill-in) and don't expect Difo to play at all, whether it's because they expect him to stink on ice or they know he's on his way out of town on an upcoming deal.

But no matter what, the fact that the management of my favorite team feels that Stephen Drew is a good place to spend three million dollars tells me that something has gone very wrong. Either they've got reliable inside information that the players we have aren't any good, or they want veteran winnersauce.

JW said...

Is Stephen Drew that much worse than Dan Uggla (I mean he has to be better defensively, not sure it would be possible to be worse)?

I don't feel like this a big deal at all. It probably does say that they don't expect Difo to contribute this year (and I don't know that they necessarily should), but I would imagine it just adds a second reserve MI for when Turner gets called up in May/June, whatever the service date may be. I would think given the injury history of the Nats infield, having a second back-up MI is a good idea.

JE34 said...

Gah! Stephen Drew is a Rizzo draft pick, so this is ego or sentimental, or both. Rizzo wants to get the band back together, but somehow didn't notice that Drew hasn't been able to carry a tune for several years.

More of this organization undermining what it has on hand already. Argh.

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