A’s catcher Sean Murphy stands as one of the likeliest trade candidates of the offseason, and Oakland is unsurprisingly receiving a fairly wide array of interest in the former Gold Glover. The Cardinals have spoken to the A’s about Murphy, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. They’ve also spoken to the Blue Jays about their catching surplus (Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno), per the report.
Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that even the Braves — a team ostensibly set behind the plate — have checked in with the A’s about the potential asking price. Murphy has also been linked to the Guardians, White Sox, Rays and Red Sox since the offseason began, and there are assuredly others reaching out to the A’s to throw their hat into the mix.
The Cardinals stand as arguably the most obvious on-paper suitor for Murphy. Franchise icon Yadier Molina has formally retired after a 19-year career, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has been candid about his team’s interest in acquiring a new starting catcher. Backup Andrew Knizner is a .204/.292/.288 hitter in parts of four seasons and thus not likely to step into the starter’s role, and while the Cardinals have a promising young prospect in Ivan Herrera, they’re also a win-now club looking to make the most of the remaining prime years of MVP Paul Goldschmidt and third-place finisher Nolan Arenado.
Much of the same logic would apply to a Cardinals pursuit of a Toronto backstop. Jansen is the most heavily speculated target of the bunch, given that he’s “only” controllable for another two seasons, compared to four for Kirk and six for Moreno, but any catching-hungry team would have varying levels of interest in the whole trio. Goold notes that the Jays have been looking for a young, left-handed-hitting outfielder, which the Cards do possess in Lars Nootbaar and Alec Burleson. To this point, there’s no indication that talks with either Oakland or Toronto have meaningfully advanced.
Turning to the Braves and Murphy, it’s not as clean a fit, nor is it a surprise to see Rosenthal characterize the chances of an actual deal manifesting as “slim.” That said, it’s easy enough to see how Murphy, who’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $3.5MM in his first arbitration season and is controlled through 2025, would still appeal to Atlanta.
William Contreras’ breakout season at the plate (.278/.354/.506, 20 homers in 376 plate appearances) clearly put him on the map as a potential long-term option, but Contreras’ defensive contributions were far more suspect. He posted negative framing marks according to each of Statcast, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, and his 14% caught-stealing rate was among the worst in the league. In 955 big league innings behind the plate, Contreras has posted a rather unsightly -11 Defensive Runs Saved.
That’s not to say Atlanta should or would (in the event of a long-shot Murphy acquisition) move on from Contreras, of course. He has more than enough bat to spend considerable time at designated hitter, and the Braves have experimented with getting him some work in the outfield corners. Speculatively speaking, there’d be room to carry Contreras, Murphy and a third catcher, allowing Murphy to take the bulk of the work and Contreras to rotate between DH, catcher and perhaps some corner outfield work.
The Braves have both Travis d’Arnaud and Manny Pina signed through the 2023 season, and they hold a 2024 option on d’Arnaud. Pina played in just five games after signing a two-year, $8MM contract, however, as a wrist injury required season-ending surgery early in the year. Rosenthal suggests that the Braves have gotten some trade interest in Pina this offseason, despite that injury. The 35-year-old has long been a light hitter, but his glovework is well regarded. A team looking for a glove-first backup could certainly consider Pina an intriguing option.
A trade of Murphy to Atlanta feels like far more of a long shot than a conventional fit like the ones in St. Louis, Cleveland, Tampa Bay or Boston, but the mere fact that the Braves are even pondering the possibility underscores the manner in which Murphy is regarded throughout the league. The 28-year-old hit .250/.332/.426 with 18 home runs last season despite playing his home games at the Athletics’ cavernous home park. He slashed .271/.343/.465 on the road. After a so-so start to his 2022 season, Murphy mashed at a .278/.363/.458 slash in his final 409 plate appearances.
By measure of wRC+, Murphy was 22% better than a league-average hitter. Catchers, however, are notoriously below-average hitters on the whole, making Murphy’s contributions all the more impressive. In 2022, the average catcher was 12% worse than the league-average hitter; the gap between Murphy’s bat and that of a garden-variety catcher is enormous.
Adding to the offensive side of his game, Murphy is regarded as a strong defensive backstop. He won a Gold Glove in 2021, has been a plus framer by any publicly available metric, and has nabbed 28% of potential base thieves in his career (including 31% in 2022). That skill set, combined with an affordable 2023 salary and three more seasons of club control, should make him appealing to all but a select few teams with stars entrenched behind the plate. The A’s, squarely in the midst of a rebuild and with prospect Shea Langeliers perhaps ready for a full audition in the Majors, will likely be able command a sizable return for Murphy in the coming weeks or months.
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