The Rangers have not been shy about keeping their own core players in recent years. For every Josh Hamilton or Mike Napoli or C.J. Wilson that departs there’s an Elvis Andrus or Ian Kinsler or Matt Harrison who stays. They’ve been aggressive about signing players on the right side of 30 to multi-year extensions while eschewing the guys approaching their decline years. David Murphy could be the exception to that rule though, as assistant GM Thad Levine told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan the two sides have had some contract talks this winter. Nothing is imminent, however.
Murphy, 31, enjoyed what was almost certainly a career year in 2012, setting new full season career bests in AVG (.304), OBP (.380), SLG (.479), wRC+ (127), walk rate (10.4%), UZR (+7.7), and DRS (+6). He also managed a 129 wRC+ against left-handers that was wildly out of line compared to the 62 wRC+ he managed against southpaws from 2008-2011. A .433 BABIP in 75 plate appearances will do that for a guy. Murphy’s been around a while and has established himself as a very good platoon outfielder given his consistently strong work against righties (career 119 wRC+) and average or better defensive ratings.
The two sides avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $5.775 million yesterday. It was Murphy’s final season of arbitration eligibility and he is scheduled to become a free agent after the season. Believe it or not, the list of outfielders who signed extensions one year before free agency in recent years is quite short — there are two elite players (Matt Kemp and Jose Bautista), two above-average but injury prone players (Carlos Quentin and Andre Ethier), and Chris Denorfia in the club. That’s it. Murphy fits best in the middle group, but he doesn’t offer the same track record as Quentin or Ethier.
If we go back a little further we run into Jayson Werth, who signed a two-year pact worth $10 million with the Phillies prior to 2009. He was two years younger than Murphy at the time but had similarly just broken out, with a 125 wRC+ and 5.2 WAR in 2008. Murphy was at 127 wRC+ and 4.0 WAR last year, with the defensive rankings representing the gap in value. Werth had bounced around a bit before landing in Philadelphia while Murphy has been a consistent 400+ plate appearance guy for Texas in recent years, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. In both instances we have a guy who went from role player to career year (or what appeared to be a career year in Werth’s case) and a shot at financial security.
Since the Rangers and Murphy have already agreed to $5.775 million salary for the upcoming season, we know a $5 million average annual value won’t work like it did for Werth. Werth’s deal was four seasons ago and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has ramped up spending at the big league level, so Murphy is probably looking at something closer to $7-8 million for his free agent years. Josh Willingham money, basically. If he repeats his 2012 season and shows the success against left-handers was something more than a fluke (that part is doubtful), Murphy could wind up seeking eight-figures annually for his free agent years. I suppose that’s part of the team’s motivation, and they do know him better than anyone.
The Rangers have some incentive to get the deal done since Nelson Cruz is also scheduled to be a free agent next winter, plus the defection of Hamilton leaves them woefully short on left-handed bats. Craig Gentry is a nice player and Leonys Martin is a good prospect, plus maybe Mike Olt learns how to play the outfield, so it’s not like Texas is desperate to keep him. We know they’re willing to walk away if the price is not right based on offseason activity in recent winters. If they look to buy out two of Murphy’s free agent years with a three-year contract, a dollar total in the $20-22 million range could work for both sides. It’s pricey if he reverts back to being a pure platoon player but is a short enough term that they aren’t buying all of his decline years.