Why Mariners value Murphy -- beyond the numbers

August 4th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE --  hasn’t had Twitter since 2013 and lives a mostly reclusive lifestyle in the offseason in upstate New York -- the point being that he’s adept at being able to block out external noise.

But even Murphy couldn’t escape the rumors swirling ahead of Tuesday’s Trade Deadline centering on the possibility of him being dealt, to the point where it was moving from back to front of mind in recent weeks.

Contending teams covet catching depth at this time of year, and Murphy has emerged as one of the best in the American League -- so much so that Mariners manager Scott Servais is regularly penciling both Murphy and Cal Raleigh into the lineup these days.

But it turns out that despite multiple teams calling about Murphy, Seattle’s front office quashed those talks quickly.

“Mostly because I think Scott would have had a heart attack if we would have traded Murph,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “It's a true story. Murph, as much as any player we have, believes in what we do. He believes in our systems. He is the courier of information in and out with our pitching staff. He knows every one of those guys inside and out.”

Added Murphy: “That was a huge relief, for sure. It's just something, as a catcher, it's really hard to think about how much you'd have to handle going to a new team and stuff. And I've built such a good rapport here with the guys and staff and the players and all that. It would have been a real crusher to leave here.”

Not only did the club want to retain a key piece to the 2023 roster, but Dipoto added that the Mariners are also thinking of a possible contract extension.

“We do plan on doing that,” Dipoto said. “And frankly, we considered doing it this week, but we thought it would be bad form. So it is something we would like to work out with Murph. But we'll address that with he and his agent and see where it goes.”

As recently as in Spring Training, Murphy talked candidly about being closer to the end than the beginning, the context at the time being that he was coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, entering his age-32 season and understanding the long-term rigors of his position, on and off the field.

“It's important, but what's more important is I show up every day and I go out there and I'm ready to play,” Murphy said. “I mean, it's as simple as that. I would love to say that those things are nice and stuff like that. But I know that's based on my performance. So that's what I focus on.”

He’s also all-in on the messaging from both the front office and coaching staff and a vocal channel for it to the rest of the clubhouse.

“Just the effect he has on his team, I don't know if you can really put it into words,” said starting pitcher Logan Gilbert, who Murphy caught in Wednesday’s win. “It's more than just three hits [Wednesday], even though that's great. But he's kind of just that leader behind the plate, takes hold of the pitching staff. There's a lot that goes into that job, and he kind of does everything.”

To that end, beyond the behind-the-scenes meetings, Murphy is among a very small handful of players who arrive for early batting practice every day. Over the past month or so, those sessions have featured a weighted vest over his 6-foot-1, 202-pound frame, which pound-for-pound might be the strongest on the team. Doing so has helped prevent him from pulling off the ball and losing balance.

The results have been transformative. After going 2-for-27 to begin the year, Murphy is hitting .356/.400/.692 (1.092 OPS). Following Seattle’s three-game series win over Boston, his .577 slugging percentage, .917 OPS and 153 wRC+ (league average is 100) for the season led all MLB catchers with at least 100 plate appearances. Between him and Raleigh, Mariners catchers rank third in baseball with 3.6 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

If the Mariners dealt Murphy at the Deadline, they would’ve not only lost a leader but also a vital piece. Seattle’s only catching depth beyond Murphy and Raleigh is Brian O’Keefe at Triple-A Tacoma. That would also be the case if Murphy leaves in free agency at season’s end.

But there’s a clear interest from both sides here to keep this union going -- in 2024 and beyond.