Rumors of the first real move of the offseason were wafting through the air here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario on Tuesday night when the Indians reportedly came to an agreement with former Texas and Boston outfielder David Murphy.
The rumors proved to be fact as the hours passed by into Wednesday, as Jordan Bastian broke the official word on Twitter that the Indians had signed Murphy to a two-year, $10-ish million dollar contract.
The game is on this offseason.
First moves always bring out first emotions.
Fans don’t know the complete picture yet for the Indians front office heading into 2014, and when you combine fan expectations with the unknown of free agency and the hot stove season, you get early conclusions.
I, for one, love them all, and David Murphy certainly brings out those conclusions.
Before we get into that though, who exactly is David Murphy?
He’s a left-handed outfielder for one, and addresses the need that Chris Antonetti specifically mentioned in his latest interview with Sirious/XM Radio.
He’s played most of his career in left field, and has done it quite well, but has also played over a full season of games at right, and can play center in a pinch. In other words, he’s versatile, and we all know that Terry Francona loves versatile players.
In Texas, he was mostly a bench player. Okay, that’s a loaded term. In Texas, he was mostly a fourth outfielder. Thanks to oft-injured players such as Josh Hamilton, Murphy played a lot of games. From 2008 through 2013, Murphy never logged less than 108 games.
He became a starter for the Rangers in 2013, but mostly by default. He did have a phenomenal 2012 season, but the Rangers were on the hunt for a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton. In other words, they didn’t want Murphy to be the starter.
It’s not because Murphy isn’t a great player.
He is, in a specific role, perfect for what any team asks for.
He’s a ready-to-order bat and glove that can come in and perform better than a typical reserve.
Does that sound familiar?
Think Mike Aviles.
Think Ryan Raburn.
Now think David Murphy.
Murphy also has connections to the Indians’ manager, Terry Francona.
As mentioned initially, Murphy played for the Boston Red Sox in parts of the 2006 and 2006 seasons. Now, let’s not go overboard here. Murphy only played in 23 major league games for the Sox over 1 ½ seasons, before he was dealt to the Rangers for the closer formerly known as Eric Gagne.
But he’s a familiar player that Terry Francona knows. He’s part of that network of players that Francona has built over the years. It’s been an interesting watch to see how Francona relates to both the players that has played for him and against him. He’s really more than a manager at the end of the day. I’ve always believed that the best managers in the game were a combination of understanding the stats and history of the game, and combining that with understanding people.
Francona does both very well, and he always fills in the gaps with a coaching staff that can fill in the holes.
Murphy was clearly a guy that the Indians and Francona targeted and brought in. He was part of that Francona family.
He was never a star in the minors, and he was never a star in the majors…he just produced.
He can hit right handed pitching very well. His career average is a solid .280, and 79 of his 86 career homers come from that side of the plate. He’s not horrible from the other side, hitting .259 against lefties, but his sample size is small there.
The Rangers used him mostly against right handed pitching.
That was his job, and will be again with the Indians.
To put it a bit into perspective, Ryan Raburn hit .308 with the Indians last year against lefties. He wasn’t really protected, since Raburn’s career splits aren’t horrible against righties.
But he’s better against lefties, and the Indians used him in a way that maximized his abilities. That’s where Terry Francona and his coaching staff excels.
David Murphy fits that same mode.
He’s also a fantastic defender.
Heading into the 2012 season, Murphy questioned his defense, even though he’s always been an exceptional defender. “There’s been too many balls over the course of last year and the previous years that have been question marks in my mind after the fact and after the play was over,” Murphy said. “I’m thinking in my mind, ‘Should I have caught that ball?’ That used to not be the case with me. I used to be a lot more sure of myself defensively. This is a very great defensive club, so I definitely want to pull my weight in that area.”
In 2012, Murphy made only one error.
He played in 147 games.
That’s the kind of player that David Murphy is.
That’s the kind of player that Terry Francona loves, as he really fits in the Raburn, Swisher, Giambi mold. He’s a team player, a great clubhouse guy, and a player that can perform on the field when he’s put into a situation that allows him to succeed.
The Indians will do that.
Of course, there are those expectations I talked about at the beginning of this week’s corner.
There are some trends to keep in mind with Murphy as we head into the 2014 season.
He starts off the season slow. He’s a career .228 hitter in March and April. After that month though, his average continues to climb throughout the season, never going below .264. He hits .264 in May, .272 in June, .275 in July, .298 in August and .302 in September.
He heats up.
His career splits were even better prior to his 2013 struggles. After April, his monthly averages were all over .287.
One bad season really brought him down.
It allowed the Indians to sign him at a contract that was lower than his near $6 million dollar, one-year deal that he signed with the Rangers prior to last season.
But, they did have to offer him a multi-year deal, reportedly with some sort of third year option.
Murphy isn’t Carlos Beltran.
Murphy will never be a legitimate all-star.
Murphy will never carry a team to a World Series.
Murphy isn’t the big splash that I talked about last week, when I suspended disbelief and begged the Cleveland Indians to send in the hounds and bring in the stars to carry this team to a World Series championship that Cleveland needs.
What Murphy is, is a complimentary part that glues together a lineup, and while the Indians on paper might not look a whole lot better than last year, it does fill in a hole.
Preferably, the Indians would find a slugger that can add three-to-five wins. Of course, those types of players are generally too expensive for the Indians to sign. With the Red Sox in on Carlos Beltran, he is clearly going to be out of play.
What the Indians have now is a “player” in Raburn and Murphy who, if they can continue to perform at their sabr-standards, could provide that very value.
They could hit 30 homers. They could drive in 80 runs. They could be the right fielder we need.
But expectations are high for free agents, especially after the Indians rebuilt their team last year. Murphy clearly isn’t enough.
So, what is next for the Indians?
There are two clear needs that the Indians will move to, and that’s the starting rotation and the bullpen. You can also bet that two names will be mentioned a lot over the next few days with regards to potential trades.
Stubbs will likely make a similar amount to David Murphy after arbitration this year, and since his position is now redundant with the signing of Murphy, the Indians really don’t need him. Sure, he could be a depth option, but the Indians likely have some players now developing in the minors that can be much more cost effective.
Sure, you have to love his speed, but with Jose Ramirez a likely option for the big league club heading into the season, late inning base running duties that would go to Stubbs is now redundant, and with the multi-faceted Murphy as the platoon/fourth outfielder, there really isn’t a need to carry both.
Of course, that’s if the Indians aren’t considering dealing Michael Bourn.
The realities are that the escalation of Bourn’s contract make him less likely to be dealt. Does that mean they won’t?
Not necessarily. There are teams that need a centerfielder, and teams that have the money to take on that contract. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.
The Indians could tender Stubbs a contract knowing that they’d be able to deal Stubbs if they had to, but allowing them to dangle Bourn out in a possible deal for a team that was hoping he would “regress” to his pre-2013 numbers.
The Indians built options for themselves last offseason, and by doing so, when Bourn fell into their laps, they were able to make the move.
That could happen again, and if they can gain value by dealing Bourn and adding Stubbs to the lineup, they will do it.
I know, I know, you don’t think keeping Stubbs is equal to Bourn in center, and that may very well be true. It also may be true that Bourn’s struggles last season were part of a several season regression that won’t stop any time soon. If that’s the case, Stubbs and Bourn are actually very similar players.
Keeping Stubbs at $5 to $6 million is far more cost effective than Bourn at $13.5 million.
It’s a gamble working under the assumption that the Indians feel Bourn will continue down that path, and that the return for him, likely a starter or a reliever, or a prospect, would outweigh his loss.
Think of it in terms of the Stubbs deal last year. The Indians got Stubbs as essentially a throw in. The Indians could utilize Bourn to gather in a player that the Indians want, and get a throw in to add to their development.
Now that’s not a likely scenario, because the fans of the Indians aren’t the only ones concerned about his struggles in 2013. If we see it, so do the other major league teams.
But there are always teams that come knocking.
Options are what the Indians have now.
What I can assuredly say though, is that the Indians are done working for a right fielder. They have that position filled up right now, and that leaves only one or two position questions heading into 2014.
First base has Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana and even Mike Aviles in a pinch.
Second base has Jason Kipnis, with Jose Ramirez now a major league ready option if there is injury.
Shortstop has Asdrubal Cabrera, with Jose Ramirez now a major league ready option if there is injury or trade…and don’t forget about Francisco Lindor. He’ll be a factor sooner than you think, although the nagging back injury is something to watch.
Third base has Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles.
Left field has Michael Brantley and David Murphy.
Center field has Michael Bourn or Drew Stubbs or even David Murphy.
Right field has David Murphy, Ryan Raburn and even Nick Swisher, in a pinch.
Clearly, the area of need is shortstop and third base, but it’s possible that the Indians do nothing at third, hoping that Chisenhall is ready to cut out the dumb mistakes. Shortstop is likely tied down because of Asdrubal Cabrera’s horrid 2013 season, but I do feel that the Indians will be applying some of their offseason magic there as well.
Mike Aviles can be an everyday shortstop.
So can Jose Ramirez, no matter what anyone tells you. I know that the front office says that they don’t know what he can do as a shortstop, but truthfully, could care a less at this point what the front office says. The grapevine of information that I can garner here at the High A level believes that with a larger sample size, Jose Ramirez can play a more than adequate short, if the need is there. Right now, that call is with Terry Francona anyways, and he has a history of giving his trusted rookies a chance.
I ask you to use the eye test.
Did Terry Francona give Ramirez a chance last September?
Did Ramirez make the roster for the playoff game?
Will Ramirez get a chance in 2014?
Sure, the conservative views may be right, and he may be utilized as a utility guy.
Or…perhaps the Indians will give Ramirez a chance in April to take over the job if Asdrubal is dealt.
Trust me, that’s more fluid than people are saying, and I have no horse in this race. I don’t care if I’m right…I just understand that Francona may ultimately give Ramirez a chance to be a regular because his skill set is a benefit to this roster. Sure, he could be a utility guy for now as well.
That’s still not in stone.
Chisenhall is the bigger curiosity, and one I’ll address in the next couple of weeks. If Aviles is utilized is a primary shortstop if Asdrubal is traded, will Lonnie be the primary third baseman?
Where is Ramirez more valuable?
Is it as a platooning third baseman or as a shortstop?
David Murphy really gives the Indians’ options to really solidify this team, should options become available.
The Indians will most definitely be focusing their attention on the rotation and the bullpen. I’ve seen several articles talking about the Indians taking on a reliever that would cost them in the $5 million dollar range. Folks, if the Tribe is going to do that, then they would have already signed Joe Smith.
It’s not going to happen.
Unless…the Indians deal Cabrera for a reliever, which could happen.
Okay, so this is when the Nellie No-No’s talk about Cabrera being worthless and he can’t be traded and he could increase his value.
Yeah, I get that.
I also get that a team could be willing to take a one-year flier on a sub-30 year old shortstop with only one-year left on his contract, and that giving up a bullpen arm wouldn’t be a big deal.
I get that as well.
You see, the Indians will likely, and have already likely looked at this option. They aren’t as regimented in their thinking as many of the fans of the club are.
Will they pull a deal like that? It has to be right, and it has to be a guy that Francona and Mickey Callaway value.
Look for the Tribe to attack the free agent wire for a starter or two over the next three weeks.
With Josh Johnson off the market, we could start seeing moves for the mid-and-lower tier players moving forward over the next few days.
Tony and I will be rolling out a Smoke Signals tonight regarding the Murphy deal and the possible direction the Indians may go in over the next few weeks tonight at 8:00. You can also check out several pods we’ve done with fellow IBI writer Michael Hattery over at www.clevelandsportsinsiders.com. IBI’s staff will cover it all, as we do every year.