According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Cleveland Indians have signed free agent outfielder, David Murphy, to a two year, $12M deal with a team option for 2016. This is the first addition for the Indians this off-season and it will give the Tribe a much stronger offensive outlook in right field, where Murphy is most likely to play. As a left handed hitter, he should complement Drew Stubbs well and Terry Francona may chose to go with an all-out platoon. Of course, the move also makes the possibility of trading Stubbs that much more legitimate as the Indians will now have a legitimate starting outfielder to replace him (no offense to Ryan Raburn).
Murphy has played with the Texas Rangers since 2007, when he was traded from the Red Sox for Eric Gagne. Since then, he has belted 81 home runs and knocked in 334 as a part of the powerful Texas offense. Flush with money, the Rangers allowed him to leave as they are looking to fill his spot with one of the top five outfield free agents (Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson or resigning Nelson Cruz). Being less lucky in cash, the Indians were glad to grab Murphy, who can not only play right field, but is proficient at all three outfield positions.
Defensively, right field has been his best place, however, and the Indians will likely keep him there, but his ability to move around the outfield can’t hurt the team’s overall depth. In 184 games in right, Murphy has committed just two errors, while throwing out 12 base runners for an overall fielding percent of .993. He has played more games in left field than any other position, but with the perfect (1.000 Fielding percent) Michael Brantley already slated to play left, there seems little reason for change.
Of course, the main reason for the signing is Murphy’s bat. While he did have a poor season in 2013, prior to that he had hit at least ten home runs and stolen at least ten bases in three consecutive years. Last season he did bat just .220 in 142 games, but as always, luck may have played a big part in that. While his career BABIP is near the league average at .307, last season he batted just .227 on balls in play. This was despite hitting more line drives than almost every other season in his career. The Indians made one of their best signings last off-season by taking in a player who was also plagued by a career low BABIP in the previous season, when they signed Ryan Raburn. It is very likely that David Murphy can expect a similar turn around.
As mentioned earlier, right now Murphy should be expected to platoon with Stubbs, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to play every day. With no full time DH, the Indians are likely to move the position around on a day-to-day basis and the Murphy signing may bring a little more consistency. Against right handers, Murphy would likely play in right with Stubbs on the bench, Carlos Santana at DH and Yan Gomes catching. Against lefties, Stubbs could bring his superior defense into right, while Santana catches and Murphy plays DH. Of course, in that situation he will also have to split time at DH with Nick Swisher and Santana as Gomes will be looking to get into the lineup on an every day basis as well. While Murphy does have a significant difference in his split stats (.816 OPS vs RHP, .657 OPS vs LHP), he would still be an improvement over most of the Indians other options (like Jason Giambi).
Overall, this looks like an excellent and shrewd move by Chris Antonetti. He signed a starting outfielder for a the price of a veteran reserve outfielder, based on one outlying season and will have him under team control for three years. Stubbs is notoriously weak against right handed pitching (.652 OPS) and this will give much more balance to the right field position. Most importantly, the Indians avoided signing any of the injury ridden, incredibly expensive, upper level outfield free agents. While they are extremely talented hitters, Ellsbury, Granderson and Beltran have all missed considerable time in their careers to injuries and will likely be looking for long-term deals of the kind that can devastate a franchise. Cruz is possibly an even worse investment after he was involved in a PED scandal and suspended for 50 games during the past season. The only really safe option would be to sign Choo and he certainly will never be coming back to Cleveland. Essentially, the Indians grabbed the best of the mid-level outfielders and that was all they needed. With a strong core already established, the Indians outfield should be the envy of the American League (at least defensively) in 2014.