Athletics catcher Sean Murphy is among the most popular players on the trade market, due both to his general excellence as a well-rounded catcher and to the dearth of high-end catching talent in a market where several teams are looking for upgrades at the position. To this point, he’s been linked to the D-backs, Astros, Cubs, Guardians, Twins, Braves, Rays and Red Sox in the past three to four weeks. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle adds the Giants to list of teams that have called Oakland regarding Murphy, though an upgrade at catcher isn’t currently atop San Francisco’s priority list as they still hope to reel in a top-of-the-market free agent such as Carlos Correa.
The Cardinals were considered one of Murphy’s most prominent suitors before yesterday’s five-year agreement with Willson Contreras, and it seems that Oakland’s sky-high asking price on Murphy prompted St. Louis to instead pivot to the free-agent market. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier in the week that the A’s were seeking controllable, MLB-ready players in return for Murphy, and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shines some further light on the type of return Oakland is seeking. Per Goold, the Athletics’ ask in talks with the Cardinals included outfielder Lars Nootbaar, third-place Rookie of the Year finisher Brendan Donovan, and a near-MLB pitching prospect such as Gordon Graceffo.
It’s a hefty asking price, to be sure, as both Nootbaar and Donovan burst onto the scene in 2022 and staked a claim to regular roles with the Cardinals. Nootbaar finished out the season with a .228/.340/.448 batting line (125 wRC+), and he was particularly effective in the season’s final two months, once he was finally able to settle into an everyday role (as MLBTR’s Anthony Franco explored in September). Nootbaar made the most of his opportunity as the primary right fielder in St. Louis, slashing .246/.371/.492 with 10 homers, 12 doubles and three triples in his final 240 plate appearances. He’s controllable through 2027.
Donovan is similarly interesting, even though the manner in which he delivers value is completely different. Also 25, Donovan played all four infield positions and both outfield corners this season, generally delivering quality defense at each spot — hence this year’s Gold Glove Award. He batted .281/.394/.379, showing minimal power but also a keen feel for the strike zone, evidenced by a 12.8% walk rate and an excellent 15% strikeout rate. He’s controlled a year longer than Nootbaar, all the way through the 2028 season. As for Graceffo, he’s currently ranked as baseball’s No. 66 prospect at Baseball America, No. 78 at FanGraphs and No. 79 at MLB.com.
Suffice it to say, it’s a massive haul for the A’s to seek and a justifiable one for the Cardinals to walk away from, no matter how excellent Murphy is. Focusing in on the Cardinals aspect is generally a moot point now, though. With Contreras signing on through the 2027 season, St. Louis is no longer in the running.
Still, the asking price from one prominent suitor is instructive when trying to plot out what the A’s could seek from other clubs. Every valuation is different, of course, but teams looking into Murphy could very well need to part with multiple MLB-ready talents who have longer-reaching club control than the remaining three years the A’s hold over Murphy. General manager David Forst said this week that the A’s aren’t necessarily closed off to receiving lower-level players but stressed that adding players who have reached or could reach the Majors in 2023 — whether in a Murphy trade or other transactions — is at the “top of our to-do list” (link via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic).
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