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Yankees potential trade target: Sean Murphy

The Yankees would have one of the best backstop tandems in baseball if they trade for the Oakland catcher.

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Thanks to the All-Star performance of Jose Trevino, the Yankees’ catchers have been among the league’s best. Their 2.8 fWAR from their backstops is tied with the Dodgers for fourth in baseball, behind only the Blue Jays, Braves, and Brewers. Although their offensive performance has been rather middling with an 84 wRC+, they have been absolutely elite on defense. To wit, their 14 Defensive Runs Saved is almost twice that of the second-place Blue Jays, and their 11.0 Framing score on FanGraphs is four points higher than the second-place White Sox.

The funny thing is that the Yankees’s backstops could be even better. Trevino has carried the pair — he has a 107 wRC+ to Kyle Higashioka’s 53, a league-leading 8 framing runs to Higgy’s 0, and 14 DRS to Higgy’s 0. A competent backup/partner is one of the few places that the Yankees could clearly use an upgrade.

Oakland Athletics catcher Sean Murphy would be more than a competent partner. Since making his debut back in 2019, the right-hander has been one of the best catchers in baseball, slashing a career .228/.316/.425 (good for a 110 OPS+); his 7.6 fWAR in that span is fifth among catchers with at least 900 plate appearances. After a down 2021 campaign that saw him post a 99 OPS+, Murphy has rebounded in a big way in 2022, slashing .240/.307/.413 with 9 home runs and 21 doubles; his 107 wRC+ ranks seventh among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances.

Additionally, and in my opinion, more importantly, Murphy’s Statcast profile gives little reason to worry. His chase rate is higher than I would like, and walk rate lower, but all in all, he’s been a solid contributor with the bat. That’s in a lineup where opposing pitchers don’t have to give him anything good to hit either, as Ramón Laureano is the only other contributor with an OPS+ above 100.

As good as Murphy has been with the bat, his true value comes behind the plate. Don’t be deceived by his anomalous catcher’s interference crisis on June 27th at Yankee Stadium — he’s an elite framer, as 5 Framing Runs is tied with Jonathan Heim and Travis d’Arnaud for second-most in baseball (behind Trevino). He controls the running game, throwing out 36 percent of attempted base stealers this year; league average is 24 percent. His 1.89 second pop time to second trails only J.T. Realmuto and Jorge Alfaro (for reference, Trevino is tied for 40th with 2.00 seconds, while Higashioka is 14th at 1.94).

In short, there’s a reason why Murphy won a Gold Glove in 2021, and he’s a leading candidate to do it again.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Oakland will be keen to move Murphy at the deadline. Because he has yet to reach arbitration, he remains under team control through 2025, which means there isn’t necessarily a ton of urgency to trade him. At the same time, however, the A’s have so completely torn everything down this past winter that it’s hard to see them being competitive in the next few seasons; they may decide that now — with a weak crop of catchers throughout the league and in a seller’s market — is when they will get the largest return from their 27-year-old catcher.

Because of this confluence of circumstances, prying Murphy from Oakland will not come cheap, and will probably include some top prospects. At the end of the day, despite Higashioka’s disappointing performance, the Yankees have been getting an immense amount of production out of the catcher position relative to the rest of the league. Barring something unforeseen, I’d expect Brian Cashman to use the organization's prospect depth in some other way.