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Rockies, Daniel Murphy agree to 2-year deal

December 20, 2018

DENVER -- Seeking a big-game-tested hitter, the Rockies reached agreement on a two-year, $24 million contract with lefty-swinging veteran Daniel Murphy on Thursday, the club confirmed on Friday.

DENVER -- Seeking a big-game-tested hitter, the Rockies reached agreement on a two-year, $24 million contract with lefty-swinging veteran Daniel Murphy on Thursday, the club confirmed on Friday.

Murphy, who will be 34 on April 1, has spent the majority of his career at second base, but the Rockies are planning to play him at first base. It means Ian Desmond, who has played primarily at first in the first two seasons of his five-year, $70 million contract, will move to the outfield -- most likely center, with Charlie Blackmon moving to left and David Dahl playing right.
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Left-handed-hitting Ryan McMahon, who played primarily first base in his rookie season, is expected to move to second, where the Rockies also have Garrett Hampson. While the plan is to play Murphy at first and allow the younger players to handle second, there could be some occasional games at second for Murphy, with Desmond moving back to first.
The Rockies have made the postseason for two straight seasons (for the first time in their 26-season history) but offensive struggles led them to seek help at first base. The Rockies considered trading with the Blue Jays for first baseman Justin Smoak, but decided to go with Murphy -- a three-time All-Star (2014, '16 and '17) and the 2015 National League Championship Series MVP Award winner while with the Mets.
Murphy emerged as a Rockies candidate during last week's Winter Meetings after attempts to obtain Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion never came to fruition. Murphy batted .299 with a .336 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage in 91 games split with the Nationals (56 games) and the Cubs (35) in 2018. He missed the first 65 games recovering from right knee surgery.

The Rockies actually had a shot to obtain Murphy last year. The Nationals placed him on waivers and the Rockies passed on claiming him. With DJ LeMahieu (now a free agent) playing second base and Carlos Gonzalez (also free) in right field, the Rockies did not have the positional flexibility to fit Murphy. Also, signing during the offseason gives Murphy time to prepare for first base, where he has played in 225 games, as opposed to 834 games at second base.
The Cubs instead claimed Murphy and made a trade with the Nationals. With the Cubs, he batted .297 with six homers and 13 RBIs, before the Rockies eliminated Chicago, 2-1, in 13 innings of the NL Wild Card Game. Murphy went 0-for-5 that night -- just his seventh hitless performance in 25 postseason games.
Murphy finished second in NL MVP Award voting in 2016 with the Nationals, when he led the league in slugging percentage (.595) and OPS (.985). He also led the NL in doubles in '16 (47) and '17 (43). In 1,280 career games over 10 seasons with the Mets (2008-09, 2011-15), Nationals (2016-18) and Cubs (2018), he is a .299 hitter with 122 home runs and 641 RBIs.

But other factors led the Rockies to pursue him.
Murphy is a .309 hitter with eight home runs and 19 RBIs in the 25 postseason games. In four games against the Cubs in the 2015 NLCS, he went 9-for-17 with four home runs and six RBIs. Those figures are important because the Rockies struggled in key late regular-season games and especially in the postseason -- just four runs, a .174 batting average and a .229 on-base percentage in their four postseason games.
Additionally, the Rockies' offense not only established franchise lows in 2018 for overall batting average (.256) and road batting average (.225), but hitters struck out 1,397 times in 163 games. That was an improvement over 1,408 strikeouts in 162 games in '17, but still more than manager Bud Black and general manager Jeff Bridich were comfortable with. Murphy has fanned at a rate of once every 7.7 at-bats -- the 13th-lowest such rate in the Majors. In '15, he led the Majors by striking out once every 13.1 at-bats.

Murphy should provide middle-of-the-order, left-handed protection for third baseman Nolan Arenado, who led the NL with 38 homers last season, and shortstop Trevor Story, who finished second with 37 homers.
However, should Black want to mix his order, Murphy has shown comfort at various spots. Last season, he hit leadoff 31 times (30 starts) and batted .317 with a .341 OBP and .516 slugging percentage, with six homers, seven doubles and 13 RBIs. The Rockies experimented at times with moving Blackmon, their primary leadoff hitter since 2014, down in the order to take advantage of his power.

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