2016 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2016 Fantasy Baseball: Daniel Murphy to sign with the Nationals

Daniel Murphy had become one of the most polarizing players for the New York Mets’ fan base in recent memory. Despite being an incredibly gifted contact hitter, Murphy was essentially a positionless player who was very susceptible to the bonehead defensive play or the proverbial “brain-fart” on the bases. He had his somewhat goofy mannerisms, such as constantly talking with the homeplate umpire during his at-bats, but he was also very well-spoken and actually pretty hysterical in his interviews. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that Murphy has turned himself into a fine big league ball player and was certainly worthy of the multi-year deal he coveted heading into free agency.

Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported last week that the Mets’ division rivals, the Washington Nationals, were apparently in the market for a second baseman and were eyeing Daniel Murphy as a possible option. The Nats primary target was initially Cincinnati Reds’ Brandon Phillips; however, when Phillips declined to waive his no-trade clause without receiving a contract extension from Washington, the club decided to pivot and sign Murph to a three-year, $37.5MM contract. The annual average for Murphy’s new contract is less than what he would have received for one year had he accepted the Mets’ qualifying offer, and the Nationals will give up their first round pick in this year’s draft to bring him on.

Although it may seem like Washington settled for Murph en lieu of B.P., there are actually a great deal of benefits for the ball club in making this deal. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that the Nationals’ front office was split on their decision to sign Murphy but also pointed out two key advantages in taking this route: stealing their rival team’s best hitter and the fact that Murphy is left handed. The Washington Nationals feature a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup — reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper being the only returning lefty — and would have only made matters worse in that sense had they signed Phillips.

Murphy is also coming off a historic postseason in which he carried the New York Mets offense by hitting a home run in a record six-consecutive games and posted an OPS of 1.462 en route to the franchise’s first World Series appearance in 15 years. That kind of power has never been sustainable over the course of Murphy’s career, but his production at the plate is still far greater than Phillips’ who has not posted an OPS+ over 100 since 2011.

Murphy is both cheaper and younger than Phillips, and while he won’t provide the same defensive boost, it’s worth noting just how good of a contact hitter Murphy truly is. Over the course of seven big-league seasons, Murphy has posted a .288 batting average and has accumulated 967 hits. He also has a career 88.8 contact% and has never posted an OBP lower than .310 in a season. Last year, Murph continued to elevate his game by striking out just 38 times in 538 plate appearances and lead all of baseball with a miniscule 7.1 K%.

Something else Murphy provides for the Nationals is options. Although defense has always been Murphy’s achilles heel, he is somewhat versatile and has major league experience at first base, second base, third base, and left field. Washington has shown the desire to play Danny Espinosa at shortstop until they can bring up prospect Trea Turner so Murphy being able to handle multiple positions on the diamond could allow the Nats to develop Turner more in the minor leagues even if they are dealing with injuries at the big league level. Murphy’s 15 minutes of fame ended abruptly in the 2015 World Series so this deal naturally flew under the radar, but I believe the Nationals will be pleasantly surprised in the move they made.

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