By now, you should be fed up with Gary Sánchez coverage. He will be entering his last season of arbitration with more questions than answers about his game, stats, and performance, especially on defense. His name has appeared on more than just a few articles on this site and across the internet.
Sánchez is less than spectacular defensively. He ranked 68th among catchers in Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA, which means Fielding Runs Above Average, with -2.3. Additionally, he was in the 15th percentile in Statcast’s Framing. His offense has been below average for two years now. After finishing 2019 with a solid 116 wRC+, the Yankees’ starting catcher had a 69 mark in 2020 and 99 in 2021, when he also hit 23 home runs. His propensity to strike out, flawed approach, and the increase of the shift have limited his offensive upside.
But the free agent market doesn’t have any available player who could be a better alternative than Sánchez. The trade market does: Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs is one, and the rebuilding Oakland Athletics may have another in Sean Murphy.
With the about-to-teardown A’s, the discussion usually focuses on the likes of Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman. Many of those players will move as Oakland looks to slash some payroll and enter sort of a retooling process. But Murphy is a possibility to be moved, as well. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, “their available parts include even catcher Sean Murphy, who is a year away from arbitration,” and also says that the A’s 26-year-old “will be a hot commodity in a market starved for catchers.”
So, Murphy could potentially be available for trade. But how much would it cost, in prospects and player capital, to acquire him? Well, a lot. He has four seasons of team control remaining, which dramatically drives up his price because of the costs associated with a player in the first six years of his career. At least that’s the case at the moment, as it’s unclear if it will remain that way after a new CBA is negotiated, though it’s unlikely the new CBA will change baseball’s economic structure so radically so as to suddenly pay players like Murphy much more.
Not only will Murphy be (relatively) cheap for the next four seasons, he is also good. Offensively, he just slashed .216/.306/.405 with 17 home runs and a 99 wRC+ in 2021, and has a 109 career wRC+ in parts of three seasons. At the moment, he is very similar to where Sánchez is offensively, and carries some untapped potential because he walks (8.9 percent walk rate this year) and hits the ball hard frequently (61st percentile). Additionally, his minor league performance suggests there could be more in store.
Where Murphy makes his money, though, is behind the plate. He is elite defensively, winning the Gold Glove in 2021 and posting 8.9 FRAA (sixth in MLB) and 82nd percentile ranking in framing. When throwing to the bases, he has a smooth technique and a very quick pop time.
A’s Sean Murphy throws 1.85/85.3 MPH on this 1st move steal(LHP). I think we need to look harder at throw out %’s. Why are we penalizing catchers when a base runner has a great jump & the catcher has absolutely no chance to throw them out? Also applies to WP’s w/runners running. pic.twitter.com/DyIqxhwZuT— Jerry Weinstein (@JWonCATCHING) July 24, 2021
Murphy played 119 games in 2021 and finished with 3.3 WAR, about twice the amount of the Yankees’ incumbent backstop. Murphy’s defense enables such a robust value figure, as he combines respectable offense with quality work behind the plate in a way that not many catchers are capable of in the modern game.
In an offseason in which finding upgrades for the catcher position may be very difficult, Murphy represents a potential avenue. However, at this point in time, the most likely scenario remains Sánchez starting on opening day and completing the 2022 season with the Yankees, due to Murphy’s potentially prohibitive acquisition cost. Perhaps Murphy could be a target the Yankees circle back to in the future, should his cost come down one day.