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How the Daniel Murphy signing affects the Rockies roster

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Who knew adding a 34-year-old first baseman would give the Rockies more options

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On Thursday afternoon, reports emerged that the Rockies were about to sign free agent infielder Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million contract, which may include an option for a third year. The Rockies have yet to confirm this signing, but there’s enough evidence to ask the question about the impact Daniel Murphy would have on the Rockies payroll and roster.

Before the winter meetings started, we made the conservative estimate that the Rockies would have around $10-12 million to spend to upgrade the roster. According to Ken Rosenthal, Murphy will be getting $10 million in 2019, $8 million in 2020, and a mutual option for 2021 worth $12 million, or a $6 million buyout, $3 million of which would be deferred. So, functionally, it’s a two year, $18 million deal with $6 million guaranteed after that. That leaves about $2-4 million left in our hypothetical Rockies offseason budget. So far there are no indications that the Rockies are done making moves this offseason (and Nick Groke suggests more may be coming), but it’s hard to know how much the Monforts will be willing to increase payroll for 2019.

As for the roster, reports indicate that the Rockies would be signing Murphy to play first base. This is undoubtedly a good thing, since the Rockies are packed with options to play second base (Ryan McMahon seems to be the leader in that competition), and the best thing you can say about Murphy’s defense at second is that he wasn’t terrible in 2017. Also, Murphy would be an instant upgrade at first, since his 110 wRC+ last year (his worst in four years) would be better than Ian Desmond’s four-year best of 103 wRC+. This would move Ian to the outfield.

Thomas Harding suggests that Desmond would move to centerfield with Charlie Blackmon in left field and David Dahl in right. At first glance that seems like a horrendous move, but the logic isn’t too difficult to discern. Dahl has a history of injuries and the wear and tear of centerfield would likely take a toll. Charlie has lost a step in center and isn’t getting any younger. Moving both to the corners is by no means illogical, but moving Desmond, entering his age-33 season and only one year of regular outfield time under his belt, isn’t the most comforting option.

Of course, if the whispers are true that Bud Black is interested in having Desmond play a super utility role a la Ben Zobrist, he could provide the Rockies with a lot of different lineup options mid-game, since he could spell any of Murphy, McMahon, Blackmon, or Dahl. Factor in the versatility of Garrett Hampson and Tony Wolters, and the Rockies have a viable bench.

Here’s what the depth chart looks like with the Murphy signing (depending on what the actual status of Tom Murphy’s last option)

Colorado Rockies 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

1: Kyle Freeland (L)
2: German Marquez (R)
3: Tyler Anderson (L)
4: Jon Gray (R)
5: Antonio Senzatela (R)
AAA: Ryan Castellani (R)
AAA: Jeff Hoffman (R)
AAA: Jesus Tinoco (R)


Relievers

CL: Wade Davis (R)
SU: Seunghwan Oh (R)
SU: Scott Oberg (R)
SU: Jake McGee (L)
MI: Mike Dunn (L)
MI: Chris Rusin (L)
MI: Bryan Shaw (R)
LNG: Chad Bettis (R)
AAA: Yency Almonte (R)
AAA: DJ Johnson (R)
AAA: Carlos Estevez (R)
AAA: Harrison Musgrave (L)
AA: Justin Lawrence (R)
AA: Rayan Gonzalez (R)
Catchers

1: Chris Iannetta (R)
2: Tony Wolters (L)
AAA: Tom Murhpy (R)

Infielders

1B: Daniel Murphy (L)
2B: Ryan McMahon (L)
SS: Trevor Story (R)
3B: Nolan Arenado (R)
UTIL: Garrett Hampson (R)
AAA: Josh Fuentes (R)
AAA: Pat Valaika (R)


Outfielders

RF: David Dahl (L)
CF: Ian Desmond (R)
LF: Charlie Blackmon (L)
OF4: Raimel Tapia (L)
OF5: Noel Cuevas (R)
AAA: Mike Tauchman (L)
AAA: Yonathan Daza (R)
AAA: Sam Hilliard (L)

Because of the number of players with positional flexibility on the roster, bringing on Daniel Murphy to play first gives the Rockies depth. If Murphy’s age or knee catches up with him, Ryan McMahon can slide over to first base. A vacancy at shortstop or second means Hampson, or even Brendan Rodgers, can take over. Hampson could even fill in for any outfield injuries if it came to that.

It also provides Bud Black with a lot of platoon options. If he believes Murphy to be more like 2018 Daniel Murphy (51 wRC+ against lefties, 130 wRC+ against righties), then he can platoon with Desmond at first. If he believes in the return of 2017 Daniel Murphy (111 wRC+ against lefties, 143 wRC+ against righties), he could make him an everyday player, and we could see lineups like these:

Rockies Lineups with Daniel Murphy

.. v. RHP v. LHP
.. v. RHP v. LHP
1 Dahl (L) - RF Dahl (L) - RF
2 Arenado - 3B Arenado - 3B
3 Blackmon (L) - LF Blackmon (L) - LF
4 Story - SS Story - SS
5 Murphy (L) - 1B Murphy (L) - 1B
6 McMahon (L) - 2B Desmond - CF
7 Wolters (L) - C Iannetta - C
8 Tapia (L) - CF Hampson - 2B
9 (Pitcher) (Pitcher)

Your mileage may vary depending on how much you see a straightforward platoon happening in center field, second base, and catcher, but it paints the picture of a lineup that has plenty of room to flex based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing pitcher.

Adding Murphy to play first base represents the quickest way the Rockies could improve the offense due in part to the flexibility the team has. Considering the Rockies have more or less front loaded his deal, it also represents a relatively inexpensive way to do it as well.

There is still room to improve the lineup, thought options (and money) are getting scarce. Still, it looks like the Rockies will be better with Daniel Murphy than they were without him.