Avoiding the Six Million Dollar Man
Steve Eby | On 07, Oct 2014
Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
As the 2015 Cleveland Indians payroll sits right now, the team has over $57 million dollars invested in guaranteed contracts for 32 players, plus another six roster men that are arbitration eligible this winter. Assuming that the payroll stays somewhere in the same ballpark of the 2014 roster ($88.9 million), that statistic doesn’t leave a ton of wiggle room for General Manager Chris Antonetti this offseason.
No, this story is not about Nick Swisher and his albatross of a contract…
Yes, David Murphy, this story is about you.
Prior to 2014, Murphy was added to fill a spot in the lineup as well as to man right field. The Indians gave Murphy a two year contract that paid him $5.5 million for the 2014 season and will pay out $6.5 million in 2015. In addition, the Indians also own a club option for 2016 for $7 million.
In his debut season in Cleveland, Murphy was good some of the time (.282 BA in the month of April, .311 BA in July/August, .360 BA with RISP), bad some of the time (2-57 stretch from June 11-June 30 with one RBI) and mediocre overall (.262 BA with eight homeruns and 58 RBI). The numbers aren’t really terrible until the moment comes that you realize that Murphy takes up over 10% of 2015’s guaranteed payroll.
Murphy is a nice piece for a big-market, big-spending, contending team to have—like when he played for the Texas Rangers—and in that scenario he isn’t really a horrible deal at $6.5 million. Unfortunately, the Indians are not a big-market or big-spending team and Murphy is just about the worst kind of player that Antonetti can acquire.
The Indians should have four kinds of players on their roster: young players making low money (i.e. Trevor Bauer, Jose Ramirez), core-talent signed to long-term deals (i.e. Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes), big money, “impactful” free agents (i.e. Swisher, Michael Bourn), and bargain barrel veterans signed for close to the league minimum (i.e. Scott Atchison, Nyjer Morgan). After those types of players, the Indians cannot afford to waste their money.
Murphy is the kind of guy that is good enough to play on a contender that is loaded with talent, but not good enough to be counted on as a key piece in a lineup on a team like the Tribe. In addition, Murphy is also the kind of guy that can be had for $6 million dollars in the free agent market these days, so the front office would be smart to avoid doling out a similar contract to just about any player looking in that range.
In the recent past, the Indians have had extremely spotty results from anyone who was acquired and paid between $3.5-7 million. Jason Johnson ($3.5 million), Aaron Boone ($3.75 mil), Ricky Gutierrez ($3.92 mil), David Dellucci ($4 mil) and Derek Lowe ($5 mil) all flopped pretty hard on the shores of Lake Erie. The Tribe got a little more bang for their buck from Murphy, Matt Lawton ($7.25 mil) Casey Blake ($6.1 mil) and Paul Byrd ($7 mil), but none of those players could ever put a team on their back for any extended period of time, either. In addition, all of these players were definitely replaceable as well.
Another example was a player who missed the $3.5 million cut was Jason Michaels, who made about an average of $2 million during his three years for the Indians. Michaels was about as mediocre as ballplayers come and his $2 million and spot in the outfield could have been replaced by a young Shin-Soo Choo or Franklin Gutierrez, both of whom made the league minimum in 2006 when Michaels was signed. Today, Murphy’s $6.5 million contract could be filled by 13 Tyler Holt’s, Carlos Moncrief’s or Tyler Naquin’s—take your pick.
Projecting rookie ballplayers with minimal service time out over a full season is always sketchy business, but Holt’s defensive UZR/150 came out an outstanding 25.5 in his small sample size this season, while Murphy’s was an embarrassingly low -15.2. Offensively, Holt currently does not project to have the power of Murphy, but their 2014 triple-slash line is not as far apart as one might think.
In 129 games, Murphy posted a triple slash of .262/.319/.385 while Holt posted a .268/.307/.296 in 36 contests. Holt probably does not project to be an everyday Major League outfielder any time soon, but the Indians furthest-along outfield prospect does make less than 1/13th of what Murphy will make in 2015.
Having a player like Murphy on the team may not be as detrimental to the franchise as an ugly, underperforming big-time contract like Swisher’s or Bourn’s—but it’s not as far off as one might think. A player like Murphy is definitely replaceable and that money could certainly be better spent somewhere else.
Photo: Layne Murdoch, Jr./Getty Images