Wednesday night's game between the Colorado Rockies and the Pittsburgh Pirates came and went without many surprises. Good team soundly beats bad team for the third night in a row to clinch a playoff berth. The Pirates went about everything very respectfully -- they held Andrew McCutchen at third base in the ninth inning when he could have easily scored their 14th run of the night and after the game they went with simple on field handshakes after a win in lieu of the typical mob in the center of the field that you tend to see from teams after they punch their ticket to the postseason -- and congratulations to them on making it back.
The Rockies, on the other hand, are in a very different place right now. Rather than being focused on wins and losses, they are primarily focused on individual performances right now as prospects from their deep and talented farm system begin to trickle into their Major League team. Tom Murphy is one of those prospects! He hit his third home run of the season Wednesday night and in his extraordinarily limited sample size -- just 21 plate appearances -- he has put up an impressive .300/.333/.750 slash line and has looked solid defensively behind the plate, leaving the Rockies with three different options to maximize his value as we head into the 2016 season.
1) Have Murphy on the opening day roster in 2016
The first option here would be to essentially hand Murphy the keys from day one in 2016 and go forward with him as the starting catcher. This course of action would probably necessitate trading current starter Nick Hundley this offseason to make room for Murphy getting the majority of the reps behind the plate. In theory, the club could also keep Hundley and use him and Murphy as more of a 50/50 time share behind the plate, but generally speaking it would be better to keep someone like Murphy in Triple-A if he isn't going to be used as the starter. Going this route would give the Rockies the largest possible amount of data to determine whether or not he can be "the guy" going forward, but it would also cause him to accumulate the most Major League service time, which in turn would cause him to reach both arbitration and free agency the soonest. This leads us into option number two...
2) Promote Murphy roughly two months into the 2016 season
Option two would still allow Murphy to get a good chunk of playing time for the Rockies in 2016, but it would also delay his service time enough to allow the Rockies to get another year out of him before he reaches free agency. It would not, however, delay his service time enough to prevent him from reaching Super 2 status, granting him an additional year of arbitration and making him more expensive for the Rockies to control before he reaches free agency. Going down this path would give the Rockies a few more options in the offseason. A trade of Hundley would still be on the table, but they would also have the option of non-tendering Michael McKenry and going with a combination of Hundley and Dustin Garneau behind the plate until Murphy is ready to be called up. Once Murphy is up, the Rockies would THEN need to start actively looking for a place to trade Hundley to. Of course, this could also be done in reverse, with a Hundley trade opening up a roster spot for Murphy. Two down, one to go.
3) Keep Murphy in Triple-A until late in the 2016 season
The third and final option is one that would require the Rockies to acknowledge that they are not going to be contenders in 2016 as they keep who is likely their best catcher in Triple-A to prevent him from accumulating service time. Going down this path would give Murphy an additional year of team control and it would also prevent him from reaching Super 2 status, which in turn would make him less expensive going forward. This would allow a combination of two of the three of Hundley, McKenry, and Garneau to be the catchers for the majority of 2016, again with either a Hundley trade or McKenry's non-tender seeming to be the most likely way of clearing a roster spot. Going down path number three would be the best in terms of service time, but it would also give the team the smallest sample of data to try to determine the type of player that Murphy will be going forward.
All three options here have pros and cons. In order to maximize Murphy's value to the Rockies it will be important for Jeff Bridich and the rest of the Rockies front office to determine which one will be just right.