I may have buried the lead of the post in the title, but I figured we’d want a place to react to the big Xmas gift the Nats gave themselves; pending a physical the Nats have signed Daniel Murphy to a 3yr, $37.5M contract. We’ll assume that the contract doesn’t get cancelled for physical reasons (ala Hisashi Iwakuma) or some criminal issue (ala Aroldis Chapman) in the next 72 hours or so and the team makes it official at some point over the weekend.
Nats acquire the left-handed bat they needed to play a position they suddenly found themselves needing coverage in thanks to the Yunel Escobar trade. They also acquire a guy who makes a ton of contact (just 38 Ks last year in 538 PAs … by way of comparison Michael Taylor struck out 158 times in 2015, in *fewer* plate appearances (511 to Murphy’s 538). Murphy also can contribute with some power; 14 homers last season (and another 7 in last year’s post-season), and some speed (not a ton of SBs last year but he stole 23 in 2013). He makes a ton of sense batting in the #2 hole (assuming of course the team finds someone who can actually get on base for him), but he could also slot in at #5 (assuming Bryce Harper bats 3rd, in order to split up the lefties).
More importantly, the Nats take a veteran solid bat off their closest rivals, who don’t really seem in any hurry this off-season to back-fill their holes in the lineup by the departing Murphy or Yoenis Cespedes.
Some thoughts on the the deal and its ramifications on the Nats:
- Assuming he gets an even $12.5m in 2016 per his contract’s AAV, the Nats 2016 payroll just jumped up into the $141M range. I think that comes down a bit (assuming the Nats can shed themselves of one or both of their highly paid closers).
- The signing costs the Nats the 17th overall pick in the draft. A tough pill to swallow; on his own i’m not entirely sure Murphy is worth that pick. perhaps you can see the value in the significantly lower contract value than what Murphy was probably worth on the open market. I guess you don’t really covet the 17th overall pick when you have just one year left with Scherzer, Strasburg and Harper all together. You have to try to win now with these guys, since more and more it seems clear the team won’t retain either of its young starlets (not with talk of Harper getting a $400M contract).
- Ben Zobrist: 4yrs/$52M from the Cubs. Zobrist is four years older, had only a slightly better 2015 split than Murphy (.276/.359/.450 versus .281/.322/.449), play a similar set of positions (4 5 7 and 9 last year for Zobrist, 4 5 and 3 last year for Murphy), and had similar bWARs (1.9 for Zobrist, 1.4 for Murphy). Yet Zobrist gets $14.5M more and one additional year despite being 4 years older and almost guaranteed of being a fossil at the end of his contract. Do you think Qualifying Offers are working? Do you think this is going to be topic #1 to address in the next CBA?
- Murphy will require a roster move; the team is at 40/40 on its 40-man. My uneducated guess: Erik Davis.
- I’m guessing there’s an open competition between Espinosa and Turner to be the opening day SS. And my guess is that Espinosa wins it for now. Something in my gut tells me that the improvements he’s made plus his superb defensive ability will win out over Turner’s potential. But, no more 2B for Espinosa; he’s either the starter at Short or the utility guy. I could be wrong; maybe Espinosa is destined to be Mr. backup infielder again in 2016, riding the pine while Turner learns how to be a major leaguer. I hope not; I think at this point in his career he’d be so gutted if he got beat out that he’d be close to useless as a super-sub.
- Murphy is not especially gifted at 2nd defensively. Negative UZR/150s across the board. But, its not nearly as important having a plus defender there as it is on the right hand side of the infield, and the return of the gifted Rendon plus the near gold-glove quality of Espinosa at short could really help the Nats and their pitching staff convert more ground alls to outs.
- All the 2B on the Nats depth chart just became serious trade bait. 40-man roster guys Wilmer Difo and Chris Bostick? 100% blocked for 3 years. Murphy may be able to play other positions … but the positions he can fill are also filled by guys who are better than Murphy and also here for more than 3 years. So I wouldn’t be surprised by some dealing coming soon. Maybe Billy Beane can give us something we need in return for some closer-to-the-majors middle infielders and 5th starters (of which we have plenty in AAA).
- $12.5M AAV for a 1.4 bWAR player. Yeah; there’s some serious money in the game right now.
Does this move make the Nats a better team? Yeah I think it does. By himself Murphy doesn’t move the needle a ton, but he gives this team some things they didn’t have yesterday. I like his contact hitting, his lefty bat, the addition of some needed power. The team missed out on so many other guys this off-season, they probably felt they had to make this deal. So they did.