Signing of David Murphy the Start of Something More?


Murphy Signing Could Be First Domino to Fall

Chronologically, the signing of David Murphy equates to the signing of Brett Myers last winter. Each was the first signing of the offseason by the Indians, and each was an attempt to capitalize on an undervalued free agent. At the time of the Myers signing we had no idea that the Indians intended to sign Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn; and I worried on this site that Myers was the sum total of the Indians’ spending. As it turned out, the Indians spent so much that we ended up wondering why they had bothered with Myers at all.

This offseason few expect that David Murphy will be the only acquisition, but I do wonder why the Indians are again following this strategy of starting small and finishing big. At this point we don’t know how much Chris Antonetti has to spend this offseason or if he even has a set budget. However, based on the salaries of the players from the 2013 roster that will not return and the raises that the remaining players are projected to get, it stands to reason that he has 15-20 million to spend – less if he signs Justin Masterson to an extension. Having allocated six million to Murphy probably caps the amount that the Indians can spend on a starting pitcher at about twelve million.

Feb 22, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians right fielder Nick Swisher (33) in the field during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

That may not be a big deal, because the Indians are not in the habit of spending much more than that on pitchers, anyway. But the more likely scenario is that after the Indians augment their bullpen their available budget for a starter will be in the range of 8-10 million. At best, that equals a third starter.

Now, if you think David Murphy solves a problem that could not have been solved in some other way, than this is a worthwhile investment regardless of how it hampers you in other ways. I think Murphy will help the Indians – certainly much more than Myers. I expect Murphy and Ryan Raburn to form a right field platoon that combines for an OPS over .800. But I question whether Murphy or someone just as good would have been available in February. In other words, this was not a signing that carried any urgency with it.

That being the case, why not gauge the market and get the best pitcher you possibly can without straining your budget, and see if there’s a big bat out there either through trade or free agency that you can get at a team-friendly salary. Those things are a lot easier to do when you haven’t already spent a good chunk of your available funds. Then, once you’ve exhausted every opportunity, if you still have a hole that someone like Murphy can fill, chances are pretty good that such a player will be available for about what Murphy signed for.

Now, things worked out pretty well last year using essentially the same formula, so maybe I should just be quiet. But the big difference this year is that Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are already on the roster, taking up more than a quarter of the projected budget. Those two signings last year were a one-time thing, a windfall resulting from the sale of SportsTime Ohio, the removal of Travis Hafner’s contract from the payroll, and the fact that the Indians could sign Type A free agents without surrendering a first round pick, which will not be the case this winter.

In addition, there is a year of evidence that even a winning team will not draw close to two million fans, so the “build it and they will come” theory no longer applies. It would be wrong, therefore, to assume that, if a Bourn-type opportunity arises late in this postseason, that the Indians would automatically have the financial flexibility to take advantage.