5 reasons why Yankees should sign Murphy

Free agent's bat could help pinstripes' offense

November 13th, 2018

Didi Gregorius' Tommy John surgery sent a ripple through the Yankees' offseason plans, creating a hole at shortstop and fueling speculation that New York could be front-runners for free-agent superstar Manny Machado.
But with Hot Stove reports painting a murky picture of the Yankees' interest in Machado, it's worth considering alternatives. could shift over to his natural position, but New York would still have a spot to fill in its infield. As the Yanks aim to stay under the competitive balance tax (CBT), one former crosstown rival could be a logical, cost-effective choice for 2019: .
There are obvious caveats: Murphy will turn 34 in April, he's not far removed from microfracture knee surgery and his second-base defense remains poor. But the Yankees are in the fine-tuning stages; outside of filling holes in their rotation (which they'll likely do through free agency), the Bronx Bombers can pay more attention to addressing the edges of their roster.
Here are five reasons why adding Murphy could be a low-risk win for the pinstripes:
He could serve as insurance for Greg Bird and
Murphy rates as one of MLB's worst defenders at second base, and his mobility figures to become even more limited. But the Yankees' first-base situation is relatively the same as when the Nationals placed Murphy on the waiver wire last August.

Bird has struggled to both stay on the field and produce once he's on it, while Voit still needs to prove he's an everyday player despite a white-hot finish to 2018. The Yankees could either go with Ronald Torreyes or sign a cheaper free agent like , Josh Harrison or to play second base, and then have Murphy platoon with Voit or share time with Bird and DH on the side. None of these options are perfect from a defensive standpoint, but the Yanks just slugged their way to 100 wins while allowing the Majors' fifth-highest average on ground balls. There's no obvious way for New York to turn that around with Gregorius sidelined and returning to third base, so it may as well try for an offensive upgrade.
A short porch awaits in right field
Murphy's approach is well known: He's looking to pull the ball in the air. From 2016-17, only 10 left-handed hitters recorded a higher rate of pulled fly balls and line drives, per Statcast™, and Murphy hit .642 when putting those balls in play. The Yankees, meanwhile, have seen their own left-handed batter tailor his swing to the short right-field porch at his home park.

Statcast™ says Murphy has pulled 53 of his 69 home runs since the 2015 All-Star break. While he went the other way on air balls much more last season, that could be due to reduced leg strength as he recuperated from surgery. With a full winter of rest and rehabilitation, there's a good chance Murphy could attack Yankee Stadium -- whose right-field foul pole is much closer to home than Nationals Park or Wrigley Field -- the same way Gregorius did.

He was better in 2018 than you may recall
It was easy to look at Murphy's .188 average in his first 21 games last summer and write him off. But as the Nationals faded from contention, Murphy heated up. Beginning July 8, Murphy hit .328/.365/.506 over his last 70 games for a 132 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which happened to be the exact same as Machado. It's a small sample, but Murphy's .348 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) -- which approximates how a hitter should fare based on his walks, strikeouts and quality of contact -- suggested he was still well above league average at the plate.

His resume fits the October spotlight
Mets fans need no reminders of Murphy's torrid run in October 2015, when he set a postseason record by homering in six straight games. Including his subsequent runs with the Nationals and Cubs, Murphy owns a career .986 postseason OPS -- good for 11th-best all time among players with 100 postseason plate appearances. Any contender, including the Yanks, would gladly sign up for that.
Murphy has thrived in October because his game is suited for postseason at-bats. Even in a hamstrung 2018, he still finished among the league's top 25 in both overall and two-strike contact rate, per Statcast™. Murphy also owns an .878 OPS with two outs since the start of 2015. The Yankees just watched the Red Sox, their biggest rival, bully their way to a title by grinding out every at-bat, and Murphy could help New York replicate that mindset in '19.
He's thrived in New York before
Murphy became a Mets hero in 2015, and then tormented his former club each time he went back to Queens. His 85 at-bats as a visitor since the start of '16 includes a .341 average, 15 extra-base hits and six home runs -- all amid a chorus of boos from the Citi Field crowd.

Murphy's track record suggests he'd be just fine returning to the New York market, but the spotlight wouldn't be on him as a Yankee. Sluggers and would gobble up the headlines, likely leaving Murphy free to do his thing in the bottom half of the order. Plus, Murphy could pass on some of his hitting acumen to young teammates like Andujar and Torres like he has in the past.
The Yanks don't necessarily need to make the biggest splashes this offseason, but with Boston's juggernaut returning in 2019, they also can't stand still. Adding Murphy -- whom FanGraphs projects will earn a two-year deal with an average annual value between $9 million to $14 million -- wouldn't break the bank. But it could be a move that pays off big next October.