The Rays are one of a number of teams showing trade interest in Oakland catcher Sean Murphy, according to Jon Morosi of MLB Network. The line of suitors for Murphy is expected to be long, and already includes the Red Sox and White Sox, while a host of other teams including the Cardinals, Astros and Yankees could feasibly be interested. It’s also worth noting that the Guardians discussed a Murphy deal in the summer, while Dennis Lin of The Athletic adds that the Padres also pursued Murphy during the season, and both of those teams could conceivably circle back to restart those trade discussions.
Willson Contreras and Christian Vazquez headline a thin free agent catching class, so Murphy represents an attractive alternative on the trade market for catcher-hungry teams this winter. The 28-year-old is under club control for three more seasons, and Matt Swartz of MLBTR pegged him for a $3.5MM salary in arbitration. While the prospect haul to acquire him will be significant, that salary is an incredibly affordable rate for a player who was worth 5.1 fWAR last season, and has firmly established himself as one of the best catchers in the game.
The Rays tendered contracts to Christian Bethancourt ($1.6MM projection) and Francisco Mejia ($2.2MM) so they do have catching options on the roster, but neither are clear starters. Bethancourt came over to the Rays from Oakland last summer and posted a 1.9 fWAR season with a 101 wRC+ in his first big league campaign since 2017. Mejia saw his BB and K rate go in the wrong directions on the way to a .242/.264/.381 line in 93 games.
Murphy would be a clear upgrade on either. He hit 18 home runs on a .250/.332/.426 line in 2022, good for a 122 wRC+ or 22% above league average. He also cut back on his strikeouts, shaving off five percent from his career mark which tended to hover around 25%. Behind the plate Murphy ranked sixth in baseball for Statcast’s Catcher Framing Runs, and threw out roughly a third of runners attempting stolen bases on him. He also won a Gold Glove in 2021.
Tampa Bay’s farm system ranked 12th in the game by Baseball America during the middle of the 2022 season, and featured five of the top-100 prospects in the game – Shane Baz, Taj Bradley, Curtis Mead, Jonathan Aranda and Carson Williams, so there’s certainly the young talent there to get a deal done.
It’s not clear how the Rays’ catching depth chart would shape up were a Murphy trade to materialize. They could look to sell high on Bethancourt on the back of his strong 2022 campaign and operate a Murphy-Mejia tandem behind the plate. Given Murphy has caught 119 and 116 games the past two years, it seems unlikely they’d carry three catchers. Of course, after trading Ji-Man Choi to Pittsburgh, they could opt to utilize Mejia as a bench bat/first-base option, although they’d certainly be looking to see a bounce back from him offensively in that scenario.
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