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Lowdown: Murphy Climbs Rockies

Friday, December 21, 2018


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Murphy Heads for the Mountains

 

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Rockies are in agreement on a deal with free agent infielder Daniel Murphy. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that it's a two-year pact worth $24 million. The deal is pending a physical. Murphy has primarily been a second baseman throughout his career, although he has played 225 games at first base, 87 games at third base and 60 games in the outfield. Even though the Rockies are losing second baseman DJ LeMahieu to free agency, Murphy is expected to serve as the Rockies' regular first baseman this coming season. Murphy, who will soon be 34 years old, was dogged by a knee injury for most of the 2018 season and was never all that nimble or athletic in the field to begin with, so it makes sense for the Rockies to station him at first base to keep him healthy and let him focus on his bat.

 

He spent the first seven years of his career with the Mets and was a good but not great player -- he made just one All Star team in that period. He moved to the Nationals for the 2016 season and blossomed into a true star. He finished second in the MVP voting that year (behind Kris Bryant) by batting .347/.390/.595 with 25 home runs, 104 RBI and 88 runs scored. He was excellent again in 2017, when he slashed .322/.384/.543 with 23 bombs and 93 RBI. He played through hip, hamstring and knee aches that year and underwent microfracture surgery on his knee after the season. His recovery from that procedure cost him nearly half the 2018 season, and he was clearly hampered even when he was able to take the field. He was able to play 91 games and batted .299/.336/.454 with 12 homers and 42 RBI. He was traded from the Nationals to the Cubs in mid-August and played well down the stretch before becoming a free agent at the end of the season.

 

A healthy Murphy can be a difference-maker in fantasy leagues no matter what team he plays for. Going to Coors Field for half his games can only help his fortunes. Despite the humidor, Coors Field is still by far the most hitter-friendly stadium in baseball. Over the past five seasons the Rockies have scored 2,390 runs in home games and only 1,551 in road games -- that is a huge 54% increase in run (and RBI) production when playing at home. Murphy's line-drive swing is perfectly tuned to Coors' huge dimensions. It is not a huge sample size, but for the record he has a studly .330/.358/.536 career slash line in Coors Field in 26 games.

 

The club's addition of Murphy will impact several Rockies players. The biggest loser might be Ian Desmond, who served as their primary first baseman last year. He has been told he will be used in a utility role moving forward and will get most of his playing time in the outfield. If Desmond plays in the outfield it will send promising youngsters David Dahl and Raimel Tapia to the bench more often. If Murphy ends up playing some second base it would come at the expense of top prospects Garrett Hampson and/or Brendan Rodgers. Ryan McMahon is a highly-regarded young third baseman who is blocked by superstar Nolan Arenado at the hot corner. Many thought he would displace Desmond at first base but now that option is off-limits too. The addition of Murphy to the batting order should boost the fantasy value of stars Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story by increasing their run scoring and RBI opportunities.

 

More Signings

 

Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that the Nationals have agreed to a contract with free agent right-hander Anibal Sanchez. It will be a two-year, $19 million deal with a $12 million club option for 2021, and Sanchez can earn up to $4 million through performance-based bonuses. The 34-year-old put up one of the best campaigns of his career this past season for the Braves with a 7-6 record, a 2.83 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 24 starts and one relief appearance. However he is only one year removed from a 2017 season that saw him go 3-7 with an atrocious 6.41 ERA in 17 starts and 11 relief appearances with the Tigers. Sanchez broke into the league in 2006 with the Marlins and became one of the more reliable starters in baseball for nearly a decade, but then had a three-year slump from 2015 through 2017 in which he combined for a 20-30 record and a 5.67 ERA over those three seasons. Fantasy owners will have to decide if his fantastic 2018 season was a return to his former self or merely a fluke. Durability is a concern -- the last time Sanchez threw more than 157 innings in a season was way back in 2013. He has never reached the 200 inning threshold in any of his 13 seasons.

 

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that free agent starter Trevor Cahill has signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Angels. Cahill can earn another $1.5 million via performance-based incentives. He went 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 20 starts and one relief appearance in 2018. He struck out 100 batters in 110 innings. He has bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen over the last few seasons. Like Sanchez, Cahill could run out of gas as next season rolls along. The last time he threw more than 110 innings in a season was in 2013 with the Diamondbacks. When fantasy owners draft a starting pitcher they want their draftee to give them a full season of work, and both Sanchez and Cahill are risky bets in that respect.

 

Padres signed second baseman Ian Kinsler to a two-year, $8 million contract with a $3.5 million club option for 2021. He will step in as the Padres starter at the keystone, replacing last year's hodgepodge scramble at the position. Jose Pirela, Cory Spangenberg and Carlos Asuaje all started 30 or more games at second base for the Padres last year and now Pirela is the only one left on the team. Kinsler was a fantasy stalwart for a number of years but at the age of 36 is now well past his prime. He batted just .240/.301/.380 with 14 homers, 48 RBI and 66 runs scored last year with the Angels and Red Sox. He can still run the bases though -- he swiped 16 bags, which was his highest total since the 2012 season. He remains one of the best defensive second basemen in the game and that skill will keep him in the lineup on a daily basis and allow him to accrue some fantasy value.

 

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Cardinals are closing in on a deal with left-handed relief ace Andrew Miller. If he does end up joining the Cardinals it will be interesting to see if they use him as the closer. His previous teams (Indians, Yankees and Red Sox) used him primarily as a high-leverage setup man in key situations. He closed for the Yankees in 2015 though and saved 36 games in 38 chances. The Cardinals don't have a clear closer right now. Jordan Hicks is likely the frontrunner at this time, with Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes also being possibilities. Bud Norris saved 28 games for the Cardinals last year but he is currently a free agent. Hicks saved six games and Martinez saved five. They also have Luke Gregerson on the roster. He has 66 career saves but only pitched in 17 games last year before going down with a right shoulder injury that kept him out for the rest of the season. Miller is a bit of a question mark himself. His ERA spiked up to 4.24 in 37 appearances last year for the Tribe. That was by far his worst ERA since he converted from a starting pitcher into a reliever back in 2012. In 2016 Miller had a 1.45 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings. In 2017 he had a 1.44 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. The Cardinals and his fantasy owners are hoping he can return to that level of excellence.

 

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reports that the Athletics are close to finalizing a two-year deal with right-hander Joakim Soria. Rosenthal mentions that Soria has to pass a physical, and there are some other "details to complete." The right-hander will turn 35 in May, but he posted a 3.12 ERA and 75/16 K/BB ratio over 60 2/3 innings with the White Sox and Brewers. He has extensive closing experience but would serve as a setup man for closer Blake Treinen if he joins the Athletics. He ranks fifth in career saves among all active pitchers with 220, trailing only Craig Kimbrel (333), Fernando Rodney (325), Kenley Jansen (268) and Aroldis Chapman (236).


Rumors


** MLB Network's Jon Morosi says the Indians and Reds are talking about a Corey Kluber deal. Unsurprisingly the Indians are asking for the Reds' top prospects in any potential deal. Third baseman Nick Senzel is a consensus top-10 prospect in the game. Outfielder Taylor Trammel, pitcher Hunter Greene and third baseman Jonathan India are not far behind Senzel in the prospect hierarchy and it might take two of those players to convince the Trible to part with their ace. Kluber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA in 33 starts last year. He has finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in four of the last five seasons, winning the award twice. He will earn $13 million in 2019 and has team options for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.


** Manny Machado visited with the White Sox, Phillies, and Yankees this week, per Fancred's Jon Heyman. All three of those teams are pushing hard to sign the superstar shortstop/third baseman. There is a mystery fourth team rumored to be involved as well.

 

** Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander said Thursday that there are currently no "active" trade discussions regarding Edwin Encarnacion. The Mariners acquired Encarnacion from the Indians last week in a three-team deal and there were reports immediately after the trade was announced that the veteran slugger was going to be flipped to the Rays.

 

** Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reports that Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar is available in trade for the right price. His name has come up in trade rumors frequently this winter -- are they making room for Manny Machado or are they just not confident in his ability to repeat his strong rookie season?

 

** According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers and free agent starter Derek Holland have mutual interest in a reunion. He registered an impressive 3.57 ERA with 169 strikeouts over 171 1/3 innings last year in San Francisco. The good season might have been an aberration though -- he was not good in any of the previous three seasons, especially in 2017 when he recorded a 6.20 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 135 atrocious frames.

 

Injury News

 

** Yu Darvish (elbow) has resumed throwing on flat ground. Darvish was limited to eight starts (40 total innings) in 2018 because of lingering elbow and triceps issues that eventually led to him undergoing arthroscopic surgery in mid-September. He has five years and $101 million left on his contract.

 

** Joe Smith ruptured his left Achilles tendon during an offseason workout and is expected to miss 6-8 months. Smith suffered the injury last week and underwent surgery this past Tuesday. He could very well be sidelined until the 2019 All-Star break. The veteran setup man signed a two-year, $15 million free agent contract with the Astros in December 2017 and registered a solid 3.74 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 46/12 K/BB ratio across 45 2/3 innings during the 2018 regular season.


Quick Hits: White Sox signed C James McCann to a one-year, $2.5 million contract... Padres designated LHP Clayton Richard for assignment... Rangers signed RHP Jeanmar Gomez to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training... Tigers signed LHP Nick Ramirez to a minor league contract... Right-hander Nick Martinez is staying with the Nippon Ham Fighters for $2.5 million plus incentives in 2019... The Giants are close to signing Pat Venditte to a minor league deal, according to NBC Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic... The Mariners announced Wednesday that Safeco Field will henceforth be known as T-Mobile Park... Cubs signed INF Phillip Evans to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training... Darin Ruf has agreed to a new contract with the Samsung Lions of the Korea Baseball Organization... Indians and RHP Cody Anderson avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $641,250 contract... Rangers released INF Carlos Asuaje. He will be playing wth the Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization next year... Padres re-signed 1B/OF Allen Craig to a minor league contract. Craig, 34, posted a decent .293/.375/.479 batting line with 13 home runs and 59 RBI over 92 games at Triple-A Paso in 2018... Red Sox signed RHP Erasmo Ramirez to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training... Phillies signed OF Shane Robinson to a minor league contract... Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Brewers have agreed to a one-year deal with Corey Spangenberg.




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