Done deal: Murphy inks two-year pact with Tribe
CLEVELAND -- Kids say the darndest things. Sometimes, baseball teams make those things official.
On Monday morning the Indians announced that they signed free-agent outfielder David Murphy to a two-year contract to become their regular right fielder. Of course, the deal has been old news at one Dallas-area daycare for nearly a week.
Every offseason is filled with countless rumors and reports, some that gain traction and plenty that amount to nothing. Last Tuesday, word spread on Twitter that Murphy had reached an agreement with Cleveland after his daughter, Faith, shared the news with her teachers.
"I think they were talking about Pilgrims and Indians in advance of Thanksgiving," general manager Chris Antonetti said with a laugh. "I think his daughter shouted out, 'Hey, my daddy is going to be an Indian.' That's how the story broke. It's a first for us."
Out of the mouths of babes and into the Indians' lineup.
Murphy's two-year pact is worth $12 million ($5.5 million for 2014 and $6 million for 2015) and includes a $7 million club option (or $500,000 buyout) for 2016.
After spending the past seven seasons with the Rangers and playing in two World Series, Murphy joins the Indians in their quest to build on their brief taste of the postseason stage last season.
"They have a lot of fun on the field and they believe in one another," Murphy said. "Obviously, they won 92 games last year, and they look like they're only going to get better."
In order to add Murphy to the 40-man roster, the Indians designated right-hander Tyler Cloyd -- claimed off waivers from the Phillies in October -- for assignment. Also on Monday, former Indians infielder Cord Phelps (designated for assignment on Wednesday) was claimed by the Orioles.
Murphy's signing was initially reported by Texas sportswriter Jamie Kelly, who was told by one of her Twitter followers that the outfielder's daughter had spilled the beans. When Murphy arrived at the daycare center, he confirmed the news to the teachers, and it did not take long for the story to go public.
"It's going to be a cute story some day," Murphy said, "a funny story that we can tell her about when she's older."
Cleveland entered the offseason with the rotation and bullpen as the main areas of need, but right field was also a spot that could benefit from an upgrade, since the right fielders' production against right-handed pitching left something to be desired. Adding Murphy to the mix has the potential to improve the Tribe's showing in that regard.
The Indians are clearly counting on a solid comeback from Murphy, who played for manager Terry Francona in Boston in 2006 and 2007.
Last season the 32-year-old Murphy posted career lows in batting average (.220), on-base percentage (.282) and slugging percentage (.374) in 142 games. As the season progressed, the Rangers used him as a part-time outfielder and pinch-hitter. On the season he had 13 home runs, 26 doubles and 45 RBIs in a campaign that was well below his career standards.
Murphy attempted to shoulder too much of the offensive load and tried to develop more power with his swing after Texas turned over its roster last winter.
"I saw that we lost Josh [Hamilton], that we lost Michael Young, that we lost Mike Napoli," he said, "and I put a little bit more pressure on myself to step into a bigger role and play a bigger part in the offense. I kind of tried to re-create my own identity instead of being the same guy I'd always been in the past."
The Indians are confident in Murphy's ability to turn things around.
"If you look at his track record," Antonetti said, "he's been pretty consistent, especially against right-handed pitching. We expect him to bounce back and get far closer to his career norms than how he performed last year."
Though Murphy's .227 average on balls in play in 2013 was well below his career average of .302, he posted rates consistent to his career in regard to line drives, ground ball-to-fly ball ratio and strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Cleveland will pin its hopes on those peripherals, especially considering the kind of season Murphy had just two years ago. In 2012 he hit at a .304 clip with an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage, compiling 15 homers, 29 doubles, 54 walks, 61 RBIs and 65 runs in 147 games. His .380 on-base percentage that season ranked sixth in the American League.
"We also did quite a bit of video work," Antonetti said, "looking at any telltale signs in his swing from 2012 and 2013. There really weren't very many significant differences. There's a lot of reasons why we're confident he'll bounce back."
Murphy has hit .280 with an .816 OPS against right-handed pitchers in his career, making him a candidate to possibly platoon in right field with Drew Stubbs (.287 with a .795 OPS against lefties over the past three seasons) or Ryan Raburn (.308/1.020 against lefties in 2013). Stubbs, who is eligible for arbitration, could also be a trade or non-tender candidate.
Antonetti did not rule out finding a way to carry all three outfielders on the roster, either.
"As we sit here today," Antonetti said, "we feel good with the group of outfielders that we have. We'll continue to look for opportunities to improve the team and make adjustments as the offseason goes along, but ... it provides us with a great deal of flexibility and versatility, and that was one of our strengths last year."
Maybe the Indians view the right-field logjam as a luxury.
What is clear is that no matter how the news came out, Cleveland wanted Murphy as part of the equation.
"I wanted to go to a place where I was wanted as bad as I wanted to be there," Murphy said. "Cleveland was very aggressive from the very beginning."