April 18, 2014

Tribe Talk: Murphy, 40-man additions, and the Kinsler/Fielder trade

David Murphy

It has been a big week here in Wahooland, so let us get right into it.

The Tribe signs outfielder David Murphy

It is not quite the needle-moving deal that everyone hoped for, but it is a start. GM Chris Antonetti gave former Texas Rangers OF David Murphy two years and $12 million dollars, along with a club option for 2016. The left-handed hitting Murphy will most likely be in a right field platoon with last year’s big surprise, Ryan Raburn, who is also signed for the next two seasons. I’ve seen many a Tribe fan already compare this to a new age Jason Michaels/David Dellucci situation.

That can’t possibly happen again…I don’t think.

Murphy is 32 years old and coming off of his worst season since becoming a regular in 2008. After a 2012 season where he hit .304/.380/.479 and was a 3.2 WAR player, he struggled in his free agent season. .220/.282/.374 was not what the Rangers were looking for. His 0.2 mark was his worst WAR since 2011. The same goes for his career low .227 BaBIP – well off his .302 lifetime number.

His splits are interesting as well. Murphy hit .296/.348/.461 vs. righties in 2011 and .296/.375/.487 in 2012. He dipped the past season to .219/.286/.399. The road/home splits are a tad of a concern. The Ballpark at Arlington is a known hitters haven and Murphy made the most of his time there. Over the past three seasons, Murphy’s home slash line was .286/.345/.470 while on the road he went .248/.319/.371.

Defensively, Murphy can pick it and while he won’t be an upgrade from Drew Stubbs, he is still an above average defender.

Do I like the move? Put it this way, I don’t dislike it and am not against it. I don’t love it either. I guess that puts me somewhere in between. I was a Murphy fan prior to this past season where he completely fell off with the bat. I, along with the Indians, are betting that last year was the aberration. The move allows the Wahoos to look into moving or even non-tendering Stubbs. There are plenty of teams who would love a guy with his defensive ability and speed. There is an outside chance he could still be kept, but I just can’t see the Indians needing to keep five outfielders when you consider that Mike Aviles can play the corners in a pinch as he did last year. They also have Matt Carson still on the 40-man roster.

You can forget about a trade of Michael Bourn as some have speculated. His salary kicks up to $13.5 million in 2014 and still has three years remaining on it. I just don’t see another team wanting to take that on. But then again, it only takes one.

The additions to the 40-man roster

With the Rule 5 draft around the corner and the deadline to set the 40-man roster here, the Indians had some decisions to make. Yesterday they added five players to protect them from being poached- OF Carlos Moncrief, infielders Jesus Aguilar and Erik Gonzalez, and pitchers Bryan Price and Austin Adams.

The guy with the most intrigue here has to be Moncrief, whom the Indians have turned from a 14th round pitcher in 2008 to an organizational outfielder on the come up. Carlos spent all of 2013 in Akron, where he hit .284/.354/.470 with 17 HR and 75 RBIs. His slash line and power numbers have improved in each of the last three seasons at three different levels of the minors. He will be 25 when the season opens and could be an outfield option is a call up is needed from Columbus. I’m a Moncrief fan.

So is Tribe farm director Ross Atkins.

“He’s another guy who made so much incredible progress and improved professionalism with his at-bats,” Atkins said. “It really is almost something we’ve never seen, how much he cut down his strikeouts — he cut them in half [in the second half]. It’s one of those things that doesn’t happen in pro baseball often, and all those stats, you’re seeing he has a lot to offer from power and athleticism. And he’s above-average with his throws.”

People probably are familiar with Aguilar, a big strapping power hitting first baseman. He has been in the organization since the age of 18 and has risen in the ranks. Jesus’s strong winter ball performance, where the Indians tried him out at third base, was probably what clinched his addition to the 40-man roster.  First base is his natural position. Aguilar was named to the post-season All-Star team for the Eastern league after driving in 103 runs.

“He made a lot of progress this year,” Atkins said. “He worked very hard to become a more discplined hitter and had really professional at-bats. He performed well with runners in scoring position, he made a solid effort, he’s a solid teammate and so we’re obviously excited about the huge raw power.”

Gonzalez is another in a long line of solid middle infield prospects that the Indians have in their stable. He started the season in Lake County and was moved up to Carolina after showing his stuff both at the plate and in the field. Defense is where the 22-year old Gonzalez really excels. The question is where will he fit long term with the likes of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez in front of him. Could this be another option at third base perhaps?

Price and Adams are two bullpen arms that we could see in Cleveland in 2014. Adams was once a top Indians starting pitching prospect but after missing all of the 2012 season with shoulder issues, the Indians turned him into a reliever. The transition was a successful one and has Adams on the fast track to the majors. He is built for the late innings with his power stuff. He struck out 76 in 55 innings for Akron. Price was the “other guy” in the Victor Martinez trade which brought Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone from Boston. He has battled elbow injuries and has become a legitimate option to break camp with the big club. Price has a low to mid 90′s fastball which is complimented by his slider and an improving splitter. Price is a late bloomer at 27 but should get a look in Cleveland this season.

With Murphy’s signing becoming official after he passes his physical, one more player from the 40-man roster will have to be removed. Infielder Cord Phelps was already designated for assignment. Other candidates include catcher Lou Marson, outfielder Matt Carson, and reliever Scott Barnes.

The Tigers unload Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler

This isn’t a Tribe related move, but it affects the team they are looking up at in the AL Central. While the Tigers may not look better on paper today with Fielder and his 25/100 every year bat off the roster, but long term they put themselves in a great spot. Kinsler will take over at second base, which was a hole for the Tigers the past few seasons. The trade will also allow Miguel Cabrera to move back across the diamond to first where, lets face it, he belongs. Their top prospect, Nick Castellanos is a natural third baseman that the Tigers were attempting to turn into a left fielder. Instead, they can now move him back to the hot corner and possibly add a Carlos Beltran or a Shin-Soo Choo type in free agency. Or they could keep Castellanos in the outfielder and bring back Jhonny Peralta, this time to play third. Remember, money means nothing to owner Mike Illitch who desperately wants to win a World Series before he dies. He and Scott Boras have been known to put together big time last second deals together. Fielder himself is a prime example. 

More importantly, the Tigers somehow were able to shed one of the worst contracts in baseball. Fielder is set to make $168 million over the next seven years. Kinsler’s deal has four years and $62 million remaining – no bargain. Reports have Detroit eating $30 million to purge themselves of Fielder. The math has the Tigers saving $72 million over the life of Prince’s horrific deal and furthermore they come out ahead as Kinsler’s contract is three years shorter in length. This extra long term flexibility may aid them in their pursuit of a long term deal with Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Also don’t forget that we are two seasons away from Cabrera’s free agency.

Are the Tigers better today? I would say no, but one thing you can bet, their GM Dave Dombrowski is far from done with his retooling for 2014. That leaky bullpen needs fixing and Mr. I’s money is burning a hole in Dombrowski’s pocket.

  • boomhauertjs

    Don’t like Murphy signing. Declining numbers plus age plus home/away splits are all bad signs.

  • mgbode

    I think he’s better than Stubbs, which is who he is likely replacing. So, I’m good with it.

  • nj0

    His decline was mostly due to a poor BABIP. If you look at his peripherals, he was still hitting like he was in the past. As for home/away splits, everyone has that in Arlington. Even if you think his away numbers are his real talent, he is an above average big league hitter by twenty points of OPS.

  • nj0

    Nail on the head. We’re mostly not going to be able to add a 4-5 win 3B or SP. So we have to play the margins. A 1-2 win improvement by replacing Stubbs is still a 1-2 win improvement.

  • Kildawg

    Looks like Matt Carson is gone when Murphy is officially in the fold. I’m surprised that no one has posted Murphy’s career numbers at the Jake (or Progressive Field, whatever). Hard to tell if it’s because he likes hitting at the park or battering Tribe pitching.

  • Steve

    Or because it’s really hard to judge a true talent level with just 81 PAs?

  • TeddyRoos

    I’m sorry did anyone actually believe we were in the Beltran sweepstakes. The difference between Murphy and Delucci/Michaels. Murphy actually has had a major league career and last year was a downer. The other two never had numbers before Cleveland over bid for them. Murphy probably would’ve gotten a similar deal from other teams.