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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Daniel Murphy

Murphy has played in New York before. Could his infield versatility help the Yankees in 2019?

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

With Didi Gregorius recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees are in need of some infield help. The obvious choice would be to break the bank for Manny Machado, who at just 26 years old, would be another elite talent in the Bombers’ lineup for years to come. However, it’s unclear if they’re willing to spend that kind of money. There’s a chance they could be looking for a cheaper infielder on a shorter contract, which could lead the Yanks to Daniel Murphy.

Murphy enjoyed immense October success in New York back in 2015 with the Mets, which would likely go over well with Yankee fans. Injuries abbreviated his 2018 season, but Murphy quietly posted a productive second half after recovering from knee surgery, putting up 125 wRC+ in the second half of 2018. MLB Trade Rumors projects a two-year, $20 million deal for Murphy, and the Brewers have recently shown interest. Could the Yankees step in to shore up the infield until Gregorius returns?

First, let’s tackle the concerns that come with Murphy. On top of the fact that he’s made some unbecoming comments that don’t reflect the best character, he’s also 34 and coming off a major surgery. Plus, his defense is incredibly suspect. Last year, Murphy’s -18 Defensive Runs Saved was the worst in the league among second basemen who played at least 500 innings. With a defensive liability in Miguel Andujar at third base, Murphy’s defense would make the Yankee infield even worse defensively. With ground ball-heavy pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation, that would spell danger.

Now, the positives. Murphy’s pull-happy swing could be a dream at Yankee Stadium and its short right field porch. Take a look at Murphy’s spray chart since 2016, particularly his home runs.

Courtesy of FanGraphs

Yes, Murphy stumbled in June when he returned from surgery, but he finished the season strong with the Cubs. Over his two previous years with the Nationals, he posted an OPS+ of at least 135, leading the league in OPS in 2016. Steamer projections have Murphy at 20 dingers and a 114 wRC+ in 2019. That home run number could go up if he was in Yankee Stadium, but again there are risks.

As a 34-year-old with an already terrible defensive resume, Murphy could regress even more severely in 2019. Sure, he could move over to first base should Luke Voit or Greg Bird not work out, but the Yankees also need help in the middle infield, as Gleyber Torres will likely need to shift over to shortstop until Gregorius returns, leaving second base open. Murphy is a possibility, but only if the Bombers elect to go the cheaper, riskier route.