The offseason is upon us and that means that the Cubs have to start making some roster decisions. Some of them are going to be easy (Cole Hamels is coming back) and some are going to be more difficult. I’m going to place Daniel Murphy into the “more difficult” category.
When the Cubs traded for Murphy in August, it was generally assumed that he was just here for the rest of the season. Since then, the situation with Addison Russell and his suspension has changed the calculations. The Cubs might now need a middle infielder and they’ve already familiar with Murphy. Team President Theo Epstein told Carrie Muskat that he’s not ruling out bringing back Murphy, citing the charge he gave the Cubs offense down the stretch and the veteran leadership he brought to the clubhouse.
Saying that he “wouldn’t rule anything out” is not exactly the most ringing endorsement by Epstein for Murphy’s return. But it is clear that the front office is at least considering bringing back Murphy in 2019.
Let’s first state that of course this is going to be dependent on what kind of a contract Murphy would sign. If Murphy tells Epstein that he’ll sign a one-year, $5 million deal to stay with the Cubs, it seems like a no-brainer to bring him back. (With one exception that I’ll get to later. I promise.) In that case, the Cubs could sign Murphy and just release him in May or June if it’s not working out.
But Murphy can probably get a lot more than that from another team. While there is no way he’s going to get the three years/$37.5 million he got from the Nationals three seasons ago, it does seem likely that some team might offer him two years and $18 million or something like that. Maybe more, maybe less. It’s really difficult to figure out where the free agent market is going to be this winter.
But putting the finances aside, here are some of the pros and cons of re-signing Daniel Murphy for 2019.
PRO: Murphy can hit.
The Cubs need offense in 2019, which is why I wrote a piece arguing that the Cubs should sign Bryce Harper. But to be clear, Harper is going to have a lot of suitors and is going to want a lot of money. Murphy is nowhere near the hitter Harper is, although he did outhit Harper as recently as 2016. Since 2014, Murphy has hit .308/.354/.490 with an OPS+ of 126.
CON: But can Murphy hit?
Murphy had his worst season at the plate since 2013 in 2018. And while everyone remembers the start he had with the Cubs after the trade, he slumped alongside the rest of the hitters down the stretch. After his first 15 games with the Cubs, Murphy hit just .288/.329/.411. That’s not terrible, but it’s hardly what a team that expects to contend for the World Series every year wants to settle for in the offseason. (Sometimes you’ll take it in August though. The Red Sox got less from Ian Kinsler and they’re happy.)
PRO: But wasn’t he hurt?
Murphy’s 2018 season got off to a late start after offseason knee surgery kept him sidelined until mid-June. Even then, it didn’t seem like he was fully healthy all season. Murphy has the entire offseason to heal now and is a terrific candidate to bounce back in 2019, much like Ben Zobrist did in 2018.
CON: But will he be healthy?
Murphy turns 34 on April 1, 2019. Once players start to move into their mid-30s, the injuries start to pile up. It’s certainly possible that Murphy gets healthy and returns to his 2016-17 form, but there’s no guarantee.
PRO: The Cubs might need a second baseman.
It’s unclear what’s going to happen with Addison Russell once his suspension is up. Maybe he’s played his last game with the Cubs. Javier Baez can play either second or shortstop, but he’s going to need another double play partner. Maybe David Bote or Zobrist can handle second base on a full-time basis, but I know that Joe Maddon would much rather those two players serve as rovers that he can plug into several different positions on the field.
CON: Murphy is a terrible defensive second baseman.
I hope I don’t need to quote any defensive metrics on Murphy’s glove at second base. Suffice to say that they’re all bad. I think anyone who just watched him play second base last year could tell that from just watching him. The Cubs would likely do better by just moving Ian Happ to second base. They couldn’t really do worse.
A brief “pro” note in the “con” part is that Murphy seems perfectly fine at first base and would serve as nice insurance to an Anthony Rizzo injury, as well as someone who could give Rizzo an occasional day off.
PRO: Murphy is a good teammate.
Murphy was one of the pioneers of the “launch-angle revolution” and has been called a “Johnny Appleseed” of launch angles as he’s helped teammates with their swings and to think about driving the ball in the air more. In the above-linked Muskat article, Ian Happ talks about how much he’s learned from watching and talking to Murphy.
CON: The Cubs already have a hitting coach.
Anthony Iapoce makes a lot less than Murphy would and he doesn’t take up a roster space. There are plenty of “good teammates” on the Cubs already.
PRO: The free agent market for hitters is weaker than we thought.
Yes, both Harper and Manny Machado are on the market, but both of them are going to get ten-year deals for more than $300 million. Also, they can only sign with one team each and that team might not be the Cubs. After that, I’m not that impressed with the crop of infielders on the market this winter. Josh Donaldson is a lot less attractive than he was 12 months ago. Same goes for Brian Dozier, only double. Former Cub DJ LeMahieu’s numbers away from Coors Field are not inspiring. The best middle infielder on the market (assuming Machado is a third baseman) may be former Cubs farmhand Marwin Gonzalez.
CON: Once again, Murphy is a terrible second baseman.
Murphy may have the best bat among free-agent middle infielders, but he gives up most of his value on offense with his poor defense. And it’s only likely to get worse as he ages.
CON: Murphy is “controversial.”
It’s not my place to tell you how you should feel about Daniel Murphy being on the Cubs in light of his comments about gays and lesbians. Many found his comments to be ignorant and hurtful and if you feel that you don’t want a player who said something like that on your favorite team, I’m not going to say your feelings are wrong. We, as fans, want our Cubs to be our heroes and it’s hard for a lot of people to feel that way about Murphy in light of his views about many Cubs fans.
I’ll just add two things. Murphy is likely not the only person in baseball who feels that way. He’s probably not the only person on the Cubs who thinks that. He’s just one of the few who said it out loud. That makes a difference — words matter. But Murphy never struck me as one who is irredeemable on this issue. He sat down with MLB VP Billy Bean to talk about what he said and how it demeans the LGBTQ community. Murphy seems to me to be someone that people who believe in LGBTQ equality and dignity should be having a conversation with and not someone who should be shunned. Again, however, it’s not my place to tell you how to feel about this. If you feel that Murphy has no place on the Cubs in light of his comments, then I’m not going to say you’re wrong. I will say that neither you nor I really get a say in this matter, unless you are someone from the front office or one of the Ricketts.
In the end, I think Murphy probably moves on elsewhere next season. But if the market is soft again and he wants to return to Chicago badly enough, I can see him making a Spring Training return like Dexter Fowler did a few years ago.
Should the Cubs re-sign Daniel Murphy?
This poll is closed
Yes, at a reasonable price
Time to move on