CHICAGO -- When the World Series ends, Daniel Murphy will become a free agent. There was plenty of talk about Murphy's hitting ability when the second baseman joined the Cubs in late August and stepped into the leadoff spot. But the veteran made an impression in other ways as well, which is something the team will be considering as the Cubs decide whether to bring Murphy back.
Murphy, who hit .297 with a .329 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage in Chicago, could be back with the Cubs in 2019.
"I wouldn't rule anything out," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He did a lot to right our offense right after he got here and contribute while being asked to play a bigger role than we envisioned when we got him because of injuries and because of a lack of performance offensively and because of the schedule."
Murphy began the 2018 season on the disabled list after undergoing right knee surgery while with the Nationals. He got off to a slow start upon his return but finished with a combined slash line of .299/.336/.454 in 91 games with Washington and Chicago.
"Our guys loved talking about hitting with him," Epstein said. "It was a daily occurrence. We looked a lot better with him than without him."
Is that enough reason to keep Murphy? The Cubs need to figure out the middle of their infield for 2019. Javier Baez, Benjamin Zobrist and David Bote will return, but the Cubs will be without shortstop Addison Russell at the start of the season as he completes his a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.
Baez could return to shortstop, opening second base for Murphy, in a configuration that the Cubs used quite a bit late in 2018. But Chicago also must ponder Russell's long-term future with the club and could consider other ways to approach the issue.
Murphy will turn 34 shortly after Opening Day next season, another complication as the Cubs eye not just 2019, but beyond.
As they make those decisions, though, they will not just consider the hitter, but also the teammate. Take the eighth inning of the Cubs' 11-1 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park on Sept. 4, for example. Murphy did not start, but he wasn't sitting on the bench waiting for the game to end.
"Probably the most impressive thing I've seen from him was, late in the game, eighth inning, everybody's coming out, and he still has a bat in his hands, still has his batting gloves on and he's ready to pinch-hit in a game that we're not in," Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said of Murphy. "That professionalism and that demeanor was something that was out-of-this-world impressive."
Happ was one of the Cubs' players who shadowed Murphy to talk hitting every chance he could.
"In this day and age, we have so much information, I think Daniel has studied it more than any other player on the hitting side," Happ said. "He understands what pitches have a higher spin rate, which makes a difference in the way it comes through the zone, and you have to make a difference in the way your bat comes through the zone. If I'm trying to hit a really high spin rate pitch that isn't going to sink through the zone at all and will be flatter through the zone, then I have to change the way my bat comes through the zone to match up.
"If I'm facing a guy with a lower spin rate and the ball is moving down and away from me, then I can enter the zone at a different point and make my bat come through in a different way," Happ said. "The fact he knows what pitches have different spin rates -- and I think he even looks at the pitchers' spin rates to make sure he's adjusted and has the best chance to put the bat on the ball -- it's pretty impressive."
Manager Joe Maddon joined Happ in the Daniel Murphy fan club. The Cubs saw first-hand how good Murphy can be during the 2015 National League Championship Series when he batted .529 in four games for the Mets. During the Cubs games, Maddon saw Murphy talking to the young players on the bench.
"The fact he's willing to share during the game -- he's very candid and open during the baseball game," Maddon said. "That really stands out to me."