The case for moving Cleveland Indians’ good guy David Murphy
The Cleveland Indians remain rich in outfield depth, with Ryan Raburn, Brandon Moss, Mike Aviles, David Murphy, Jerry Sands, and Tyler Holt, the ladder two currently with AAA Columbus, all vying for playing time in right field. Meanwhile, Nick Swisher is due back from the DL over the next few weeks, and the Indians are paying powerful lefty Zach Walters a Major League salary on the DL, when they could have simply sent him to AAA Columbus. It seems something has to give soon. So, who is the odd man out?
Why David Murphy?
David Murphy looks to me to be the best player for the Tribe to send packing. His $6 million salary for 2015 would be nice to unload, plus with Nick Swisher switch-hitting and Zach Walters and Brandon Moss batting from the left side, he is an extra lefty platoon bat in a crowded outfield.
Meanwhile, Murphy managed an OPS+ of 102 in 2014, and he may be relegated to a bench role in a few weeks. Murphy is a real team player, offering solid veteran presence. He knows how to put the ball in play and rarely strikes out, owning a respectable career.262/.319/.385 slash line. As a lefty, he could also function as a platoon player for a team in need. He has suffered from poor BABIP over the last two seasons, with BABIP of .227 and .285 in 2013 and 2014 respectively, both well below his career average of .299. His line drive rates have hovered right around his career mark of 19%, suggesting his drop in BABIP has little to do with hitting less balls hard. Bad BABIP is killer for guys who constantly put the ball in play, suggesting Murphy could bounce back closer to the player who posted a 3.8 WAR in Texas two seasons ago with just a little luck.
Why it Makes Sense for the Tribe
If the Indians can get something for Murphy, they have a number of internal options to replace him.
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26-year-old Tyler Holt appears poised to make an impact with the big league club after batting .268 over 38 games with the team last year. He is a stellar defender, managing a 2.6 Def rating last season per Fangraphs (Def incorporates UZR and Defensive Runs Saved) and an above-average base runner. Both his defense and base running could be utilized late in games, given the lack of speed and range at the position with Swisher and Moss in the lineup. By comparison, Swisher and Moss had Def ratings of -16.0 and -11.1 in 2014 respectively. He could also overtake Ryan Raburn as the preferred right fielder against lefties should Raburn’s 2014 struggles carry over into 2015.
Speaking of Raburn, he remains a cheaper option than Murphy, and he has value against lefties. Plus, he is only a season removed from a 16-homer surge that earned him a two-year extension in 2013.
Jerry Sands could be on the radar of the Major League club after a scorching spring training that featured a 480-foot homer and left him in contention for a roster spot until the last week of camp.
The final and perhaps most likely option is the Indians decide to move forward with an eight-man bullpen, as they elected to do to open the season. Austin Adams could remain with the club, as could Zach McAllister should he be pushed back into a bullpen role. Terry Francona loves his bullpen, and moving Murphy would enable him to continue to max out his pen size.
What Could the Indians Get?
With the deal making sense for the Tribe, the next question is where might Raburn go and what could the Indians get in return?
Motor City Bengals
The most likely scenario to provoke a Murphy trade is a critical injury for a team without much outfield depth. Just as the A’s losing Crisp and Reddick meant the addition of Cody Ross, an injury to a starting outfielder on just about any team could mean Murphy packing his things and heading elsewhere.
A return to the Rangers given their youth and uncertainty seems possible, and would enable Murphy to return home. Youngsters Jake Smolinksi and Ryan Rua are splitting time in left, while Leonys Martin plays center and the injury-prone former-Indian Shin-Soo Choo plays right. They certainly could stand to add a little depth and certainty to the outfield.
Heck, maybe the Indians should simply offer him to A.J. Preller. He has traded for just about everyone else in the league as he attempts to bring his Padres to the postseason.
In any deal, I would expect the Indians to be looking for Minor League talent with potential, in the Michael Brantley player-to-be-named-later mold. Getting a team to take on Murphy’s salary would be a win alone. Another option is a bullpen arm to bolster Tito’s beloved relief corps, especially if he chooses to continue with an eight-man pen.
Ultimately, for the right price, the Indians front office should consider moving Murphy if there is mutual interest. With the presence of Raburn and Moss, versatility of Aviles, speed and defense of Holt, and impending return of Swish and Walters, the Tribe would do well to give Good Guy David Murphy regular playing time elsewhere.