Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it


Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via

Murphy makes the drive down I-95 to Washington. Photo via

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.

21 Responses to 'Murphy Signing: I guess I’m ok with it'

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  1. I was pretty negative early on when I heard this, and have since regressed to being bummed about losing the pick, but otherwise appreciative of Murphy’s solid offense and positional versatility. I still think I wouldn’t have done it, but I am closer to wanting a bit of a retooling than most people, so it’s easier for me to opt for playing the kids and keeping the picks.

    Murphy is a solid player, can play below average but not killer D at 3, maybe 4 positions, and he’ll get $12.5m for his age 31-33 seasons. I think that’s a fair deal. I still regret losing the pick but think he’s a lot better fit than Escobar, even though he was great last year, and I do t even necessarily agree that he’ll block a kid who shows real stuff. If Difo is a 3WAR player, Murphy can become a super sub guy.

    I’d like to see a new lead off CF, with Murphy @ 2, followed by Rendon, Harp, Zim and Werth. That’s a nice 1-6.


    26 Dec 15 at 11:08 pm

  2. Second try at this; first try didn’t appear. Apologize if this is a double post.

    Breaking news is that Ryan Zimmerman has been named in a doping scandal (HGH) broken by Al Jazeera. Huffington Post has the story: For those curious, Zim has denied the allegations, and the pharmacist has retracted his statement made on tape. It’s not clear whether he was just blowing smoke to make himself good (Peyton Manning is another athlete named) or whether there is any there there. More to come I’m sure.

    John C.

    26 Dec 15 at 11:16 pm

  3. On Murphy, Svrluga is reporting that $4M of his 2016 salary is deferred to 2020 (after the MASN money is settled?). Given that, and given that most analysts had Murphy as getting somewhere between 4/$48-60M, this would actually be a bit of a bargain … but for the draft pick.

    And yes, Murphy was a 1.4 rWAR player last year. fWar likes him a lot better (2.5 fWAR). In fact, Murphy has been pretty consistent under both systems, putting up 1.8, 1.9 and 1.4 rWAR the last three seasons vs. 3.1, 2.5, 2.5 fWAR. My rule of thumb is to average the two (I find that people tend to site whichever WAR system most closely matches the point they are trying to make). That would make Murphy a perennial 2.2 WAR player, with the Nats only committed for three years (his age 31, 32 and 33 seasons). Even if you add $10M or so in value for the draft pick, that’s not terrible at all.

    Another thought: this signing means that the Nationals are convinced that Turner is a SS. With Zimmerman, Rendon and Murphy projected to hold the other three infield spots down for the next three seasons, Turner is the SS by process of elimination – none of those other guys are going to play SS.

    John C.

    26 Dec 15 at 11:25 pm

  4. Thanks John, for the link. Horrible development if true. I’m reminded that even as we never saw punishment of Gio Gonzalez, we’ve never seen him return to Cy Young form, either.

    As for Murphy, I’m good with the trade for a few reasons.

    His bat, beyond numbers, is a proven clutch and big game bat and the Nats lost 2014 because that big hit was lacking. This is an October acquisition as much as anything.

    I think Turner will be the starting SS in DC as soon as is financially practicable. He is too dynamic a player, and a winner all the way. I feel like the team sees him as its leadoff hitter of the future.

    Rizzo does not seem to be done. The Murphy acquisition turns Danny Espinosa into a trade chip, and many teams would value him. He will lose value quickly once Turner takes over. A player like Clint Robinson becomes expendable as well, because he is poor defensively but financially very attractive.

    The organization clearly values players with big game success, be it Petit or Murphy. This makes me wonder, especially given his defensive skills and late season production, if Cespedes is the big bat on the radar, with Harper to CF and Taylor better groomed in AAA every day and DenDekker an OF off the bench. Just wondering. I cannot see it being Uhpton, and the talent cost for Cargo, especially given his inability to stay healthy, is a risk. But the Jays did well with Tulowitzki added, and so perhaps a fresh start for Cargo, and a manageable financial outlay, is part of the calculus.

    I suppose this also means all talk of a Desmond return is dead.

    I’m still thinking about a trade with the Yankees that brings Miller to DC. Acquiring a pressure-tested player will always be the preferred option, and considering what the team played Soriano, not so outlandish an outlay.


    27 Dec 15 at 12:32 am

  5. I like this signing. Murphy can hit. He can really hit! Always scared me when we played against him, and he hits good pitching too. After seeing years of Desi, Espi and Ramos, Taylor, etc.. just flailing at pitches, I am really looking forward to adding a real pro with the bat.

    I understand the defense is ugly. But I’ll trade that for the much needed lefty bat. His bad defense might look more obvious, but in reality won’t be worse than Escobar’s last year. Also the versatility helps as his other positions are manned by our most injury prone players.

    Anyway.. I know the errors are coming with him but I’ll accept them while enjoying his 500+ at bats next year. He is such a good hitter and from most valuable side, that if he could play defense he would be $20 million player. We got him at a bargain, and interesting that the shorter than expected 3 year deal exactly matches Harper’s remaining contract. As you mentioned, they looking to win now and for the Harper under contract window. And surround Harper with real offensive talent now rather than a draft pick that probably wont show up in the bigs until Harper is gone.

    Marty C

    27 Dec 15 at 1:46 am

  6. This would be a great signing if the Nats played in the AL, as we’re now going to look at DH-quality defense for 3 years.

    They’re 1st round pick is valued at $10 million, so that means this is a $46 million dollar signing.

    The good news is Turner will stay down in AAA until late June so Rizzo’s panic move in August bringing him up early will be made up for.

    Mark L

    27 Dec 15 at 8:08 am

  7. I haven’t seen this mentioned, but I also haven’t read all the zillion comments about the signing in the Natosphere, either: this is very much a Harper Window (TM) signing. The calculation is that it’s more important to take full advantage of the next three years than it is to wait for a mid-first-round pick who likely won’t contribute in that time frame. It’s hard to argue with that logic. (And this coming from someone who had already spent some time looking at college power hitters who might be available at #17.)

    I like the signing. I’ve always thought well of Murphy as a hitter and had him on the radar during last season as someone who the Nats might pursue. I thought his postseason would overvalue him in the $15M per range for four or five years, though, which would be an over pay. The deal the Nats got makes a lot of sense, however. He’ll make the contract value back with 5 WAR, which he should exceed, despite his defense.

    Murphy had a career high with 14 HRs last year in a shortened season, then of course the 7 more in the postseason, leading one to wonder whether he’s found something in his stroke. Is it possible that he can replace Desmond’s power by himself?

    Unlike Desi, Murphy has a phenomenally low K rate, yet that hasn’t translated to an especially high OBP in recent seasons, for reasons I can’t quite explain. It’s not all BABIP bad luck. In such cases, some would make the argument that even though he’s making contact, such numbers mean that he isn’t hitting the ball particularly well. We’ll see.

    Murphy’s defense is what it is. If you can hide weaker defense in the INF, it’s generally best to do it at 2B. Admittedly, I was looking forward to an Espy-Trea middle infield with world-class range. It’s also possible that if anyone actually looks at Murphy’s better defensive stats at 3B, they may flip Rendon back to 2B. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

    Good call by John C. that the signing seems to mean that the Nats believe Turner is a SS. I doubt it makes Espinosa expendable, though, at least not this season. I’m eager to see what he can do at SS.


    27 Dec 15 at 8:49 am

  8. What next? I would vote for a big OF bat over a speedster. Put Upton or Cespedes at clean-up behind Harper and dare pitchers to walk him. Both have some flaws and strike out too much, so I’ve had a hard time getting excited about either of them. But I’d much rather have another power bat in the lineup than waste money on someone like Fowler. Turner will be ready as the prototypical leadoff guy in a year or two, or perhaps by June if Danny isn’t hitting.


    27 Dec 15 at 8:56 am

  9. The problem with the big bat (as I see it, anyway), is that Harper goes back to CF, which isn’t ideal or even likely, imo. I don’t think they want him in a more tiring position for fear of impacting his offense. I know he’s 23 and all, but there has to be a little bit of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ going on.

    So that gets us back to a lefty CF. my guess is that it’s going to be Fowler, mostly because I really don’t like him and don’t want to lose another pick 🙂

    I’ll stop with Gardner. My preference is that Span’s medicals look fine and they bring him back. Second choice might be a lesser option like Venable, although I wouldn’t be upset with Parra if the contract was reasonable.


    27 Dec 15 at 9:47 am

  10. Zimmerman & HGH: saw the link last night, sounds iffy but i’ll reserve judgement until seeing the special. Its on 9pm tonight on Al Jazeera; i’ve already got it taped.

    If Zimmerman was using HGH these past few years … it didn’t do much for him 😉

    Todd Boss

    27 Dec 15 at 9:53 am

  11. +111 to RZim not getting his money’s worth from HGH. He doesn’t seem like the type who would do it, unless the frustration from all the injuries just drove him to it. The story seems even shakier than Biogenesis, though, and you can bet the Peyton Manning propaganda machine will do everything it can to crush it.

    Murphy would be an option at 1B, though, if Zim gets hurt, or at 3B, if Tony Two Bags can’t stay healthy.

    Wally, yeah, I would be as nervous as you with Bryce in CF, threatening to run into anything. It’s possible they could put Upton in CF, but unlikely. Cespedes has proven beyond a doubt that he doesn’t need to be in center. He would probably be best in left, which would put Werth back in right, which wouldn’t make anyone happy except Jayson.

    Fowler would actually cost a draft pick, and he’s certainly not worth it, not even a second-rounder. Blackmon would cost two or three really good prospects. Span would cost more years and more AAV (thanks to Boras) than he’s probably worth. I’d love to have a healthy Span for a couple of more years, but not for four or five.

    Bostick: he played about 180 innings in the OF for Harrisburg this year in addition to 2B, I think while Difo and Turner were together in the middle infield. He was back at 2B in the AFL, though. With 16 HRs in ’15 including the AFL, he seems to have the power potential to make a transition to the OF work, if they want to go that route. With so little proven power in the organization, I would hate to see him be traded.


    27 Dec 15 at 1:27 pm

  12. Excellent analysis as always. I’m just curious about why draft picks have become such a big deal in the past few years. Now, I understand the importance of building from within through drafting and scouting, for all sorts of reasons, including cost control.

    But the MLB Draft isn’t the NFL or even the NBA draft. Yes, Mike Trout was selected with the 25th pick but Harper and Carlos Correa went number 1. After the first 5-8 picks of every draft, luck and good scouting make the difference, not draft position.

    Mind you, I don’t think you should waste picks by signing play4ers without regard to the consequences in the draft. But we’ve come to a point, IMO, where we are overvaluing prospects or, in this case, potential prospects.

    I call it the “BW Syndrome.” A few years back, there was a very highly regarded prospect with those initials. His parent club received many offers for him, including from the Nats, turned them down because everyone said he was a such a good prospect.

    As you no doubt have guessed, BW did nothing of any consequence in the majors. His team incurred a real opportunity cost and ended up releasing him.

    Statistically, BW is closer to the rule rather than the exception. Recall the Gio Gonzalez trade. At the time the consensus was that the Nats paid too much. Well, aside from Derek Norris, is there any player we sent to the As that we would want back? (Actually, we got AJ Cole back.)

    Mind you, I would go nuts if players like Turner, Giolito or Robles were dealt. But we’re talking about a draft pick here, in exchange for a player who can help us, at least offensively.

    What’s more, the Nationals will in all likelihood get two compensation picks for Zimmermann and Desmond and, frankly, I’m hard-pressed to see a meaningful difference in most drafts between selecting 17th and selecting somewhere between 30 and 35.

    Thanks for the chance to express these thoughts.


    27 Dec 15 at 6:32 pm

  13. To answer your question Roberto, statistically around 90% of the first 50 picks in the draft make it to the show.
    After that, it’s a crapshoot, but when you give up that pick, it means you very likely lost out on someone who will be a contributor to your team. Those are the facts.

    Mark L

    27 Dec 15 at 8:26 pm

  14. Great points Roberto. I really don’t like giving up the pick for Murphy, and perhaps that’s irrational of me. To your point, perhaps if we take $5-10MM saved on Murphy because of the QO and put that toward a big international signing (or 5 small ones), we can get a similar result. Perhaps Rizzo already has that signing in mind…

    To the actual signing, I give it a 3 of 10. On top of giving up the pick, Murphy is a 2 WAR guy who fields poorly. Plus, he blocks Difo (and Bostick) for 3 years, when potentially one of them can become a 2 WAR guy in a year or two. I expected Rizzo to make a trade for a younger, more controllable uy. I hope Rizzo is right that Murphy is worth all this trouble and am curious if this puts Difo on the block.

    Andrew R

    27 Dec 15 at 9:15 pm

  15. I’m a little surprised at the fixation on the lost draft pick. Fedde was a #18 pick. That’s the type of player we’re discussing, generally not a franchise-shaping player (unless we’ve got a secret line on the next Trout). There are only a couple of legit college power bats, and they’ll be long gone by #17. There is a whole list of projectable ones who follow, but several of those guys will still be on the board when the Nats pick twice in the late 20s (where they’ll probably end up after other teams make FA signings). I would look for the Nats to take an OF bat (Nick Banks, if he falls that far?) and a college arm, perhaps a wounded one who has slipped.

    The Nats got the LH bat they felt they needed, and they didn’t break the bank to do it, or commit to someone well into his later 30s. All those things considered, I’m OK with the Murphy signing, even with losing the draft pick. It’s a win-now decision, for a team built to win now.


    27 Dec 15 at 10:19 pm

  16. statistically around 90% of the first 50 picks in the draft make it to the show.

    Even if that’s the correct figure, how many of those guys amount to anything meaningful? Sometimes teams move these guys up and to the big leagues simply because of the draft pick investment. Remember Matt Antonelli? He was a #17 pick, made it to the big leagues for 21 games and 65 plate appearances. Career fWAR of -0.4. He falls in the 90%, but still didn’t amount to anything in terms of big league impact.

    I’m not sure that I regard Difo or Bostick as “blocked” until they show more in the minors. Difo went much of last season before he drew a (1) walk. He’s fast, but he’s got to hit to get on base, and hasn’t really hit that consistently across his minor league career. Bostick I don’t know much about except that the Nats got him for Detwiler – which so far has sure turned out well for the Nationals.

    John C.

    28 Dec 15 at 7:54 am

  17. KW: Fedde (and especially Giolito before him) is exactly the kind of player I had in mind when I wrote about luck and good drafting: players who would have gone higher in the draft but fell because of injury concerns. Rizzo and company have skillfully exploited one of the inefficiencies in the process: teams’ reluctance to sign players, especially pitchers, with a checkered medical history. Sometimes, in the case of a Purke, it doesn’t work out. Other times, as with Rendon and Giolito it appears to have succeeded. Based on Baseball America’s reports, Fedde may very well be in the latter category.


    28 Dec 15 at 8:58 am

  18. I think you can put a value on the #18 pick; its the difference between Murphy’s contract and Zobrists basically. If Murphy didn’t hvae a QO attached to him, what do you think he would have gotten? I think it would have been much closer to Zobrists 4/52 than the 3/37.5 that he got. That’s a $14.5M delta; i’ve seen others put the value at around $10M.

    Are we being irrational about a #17 overall pick? Perhaps so. We got Giolito 16th overall and Fedde 18th overall for immediate, recent comparison purposes. One certainly is trending towards providing well more than $10M in value (if you value a WAR at around $7M), the other may be trending more like a #4 starter and may give the team a few wins over the course of his pre-arb years. Still a victory.

    But perhaps not; 1st rounders (as we have noted before) are far, far more likely to impact for your team and provide cheap cost contained value at the MLB level. With 5th starters going for $14M a year on the FA market, the pre-arb guys are absolutely VITAL to balancing your payroll. And the only way to get quality pre-arb guys on your team is to draft them and draft well. I think its as simple as that.

    If we want to talk about exactly who has been drafted #17 overall;

    Brady Aiken (a 1-1 talent who got hurt), Brandon Finnegan (first in his class to the majors), Tim Anderson (good season in AA this year as a 22yr old), DJ Davis (just repeated low-A but has yet to turn 21)), CJ Cron (16 homers in 404 PAs this year but poor defensively), Josh Sale (ok this was a disaster; suspended 2x for drugs, now out of baseball), AJ Pollack (yea, would love to have him in CF), David Cooper (topped out as a 4-A guy), Blake Beaven (another 4-A type pitcher), Matt Antonelli (4-A slugger who was with Washington at one point).

    Its hard to say this is the kind of results that the Nats would get because many of these guys were exactly NOT the kind of player that Rizzo would have drafted. Certainly not the HSers. Probably not any of the hitters either. Finnegan was totally a Rizzo pick.

    Todd Boss

    28 Dec 15 at 9:23 am

  19. Btw, watched the Al Jazeera thing last night. The “source” who fingered Peyton Manning, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Howard and a slew of other pro athletes (mostly football players in Green Bay) was portrayed in the documentary as a “Pharmacy doctor” but per the Institute where he worked was actually an “unpaid pharmacy intern” who really looked like a fat, sloppy college student.

    So, not exactly a source who inspired confidence. But the problem i have is this: how does he decide to pick these specific athletes? I mean, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard are pretty random baseball players to pick. No basketball players named; just two aging veteran players who certainly have not exactly shown the kind of career resurgances you’d expect for someone using illegal substances.

    I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve just new posted on the topic since it was relevant.

    Todd Boss

    28 Dec 15 at 10:55 am

  20. Per my above post, Chapman to NY makes Miller to DC a realistic next target. Tends being flipped = Nats prospects respected and valued by others long after we devalue them.


    28 Dec 15 at 6:10 pm

  21. Sorry, meant Renda. spellcheck does not recognize exes.


    28 Dec 15 at 6:12 pm

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