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Rockies decline Murphy's 2021 option

Colorado to again come up with new plan at first base
@harding_at_mlb
October 28, 2020

DENVER -- The Rockies on Wednesday declined Daniel Murphy’s $12 million option for 2021, choosing instead to pay his $6 million buyout and rethink their options at first base. Murphy, 35, signed a two-year, $24 million contract after the 2018 season, but he did not provide the offense the Rockies

DENVER -- The Rockies on Wednesday declined Daniel Murphy’s $12 million option for 2021, choosing instead to pay his $6 million buyout and rethink their options at first base.

Murphy, 35, signed a two-year, $24 million contract after the 2018 season, but he did not provide the offense the Rockies needed. Murphy hit .269 with 16 home runs and 94 RBIs in 172 games for the club. He dealt with a finger injury that reduced his effectiveness in 2019 and, after playing second base for much of his career, he struggled offensively at first base throughout the two seasons.

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By September of the 60-game 2020 season, rookie Josh Fuentes had taken over as the regular first baseman, with Murphy -- a three-time All-Star who played previously with the Mets, Nationals and Cubs -- occasionally starting in matchup situations or serving as designated hitter.

While Murphy struggled, Rockies fans were rankled -- because in signing Murphy, the club did not re-sign longtime second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who signed with the Yankees for the same two years and $24 million that Murphy received from the Rockies. LeMahieu moved around the infield (even playing first base) and won the 2020 American League batting title.

Colorado will need a new plan at first base -- a position that has been in various states of unsettlement since Hall of Fame candidate Todd Helton retired at the end of the 2013 season.

Fuentes, who turns 28 on Feb. 19, performed solidly in several categories during his 103 plate appearances over 30 games -- recording a .306 batting average with two home runs, seven doubles and 17 RBIs.

Despite not becoming a regular until well into the season, Fuentes led National League first basemen in defensive runs saved (DRS) with eight, according to Fangraphs.

Fuentes’ control of the strike zone is an area to improve on -- he walked just twice, against 29 strikeouts. But the right-handed hitter has shown defensive acumen at third base, performed brief outfield duty late in the season and has the ability to play second base. So his future could be as a multi-position player.

First base could be a landing spot for left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon, although the club likes his potential for solid fielding and power at second base. McMahon struggled mightily with strikeouts (66 in 193 plate appearances) and hit just .215, but he also had nine home runs and saw improvement in his at-bats late in the year -- an indication that his performance could have ended up much better in a season of normal length.

McMahon, also defensively versatile, spent the bulk of his Minor League career at third base, and he could be a factor at that position should the Rockies decide to trade perennial Gold Glover Nolan Arenado for payroll relief and redistribution.

The versatility already on the roster means the Rockies can be creative should they pursue trades or free agents -- with the free-agent list including LeMahieu.

In addition to Murphy, other Rockies who became free agents are catcher Drew Butera, designated hitter/outfielder Matt Kemp, utility man Chris Owings, center fielder Kevin Pillar and right-handed relief pitcher AJ Ramos.

The club is expected to prioritize attempting to retain Pillar, who was obtained from the Red Sox at the Trade Deadline. Pillar slashed .308/.351/.451 in 24 games as the regular in center field after joining the Rockies.

Kemp has expressed a willingness to return -- although that could be partially dependent on whether the NL keeps the designated hitter (a special rules adjustment for the 2020 season).

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.