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Cleveland Indians Adding David Murphy Makes for an Intriguing Offseason Approach
The Cleveland Indians made a surprise November free agency move this week, adding left-handed hitting outfield David Murphy from the Texas Rangers. With many fans and pundits assuming the Indians would pursue a power hitting addition to their outfield, the Cleveland front office took that out of the equation—barring a trade—with the addition of Murphy.
Coming off a season to forget in 2013, Murphy is a career .275 hitter who has hit double-digit home runs every season since 2008 without breaking the 20 home run barrier. The 32-year old has recorded over 100 hits in a season five times (2008-2012), and has greatly reduced his yearly strikeout total since recording 106 of them back in 2009.
While he has certainly been a productive outfielder capable of playing all three outfield positions throughout his career, the obvious elephant in the room is his performance last season. Coming off a career year in 2012–.304 batting average, 15 HRs, 61 RBIs and 54 walks, Murphy looked like a completely different player in 2013. He finished the year with a .220 batting average (worst of his career), 13 home runs, 45 RBIs and just 37 walks in 142 games played with the Rangers.
One of the biggest downfalls of Murphy’s 2013 season was his batting against right-handed pitching—something he had been well-known for in his career. From 2011-2013, Murphy hit righties at a .271 clip, but in 2013 he batted just .219. If Murphy is going to turn things around after agreeing to a two-year deal worth $12 million with the Indians, he is going to have to get back to hitting right-handed pitching at a high level—especially since that is why they signed him.
Bringing in Murphy is clearly a move to create a platoon in right field with Ryan Rabun. After shocking Indians fans by batting .272 with 16 HRs and 55 RBIs last season in just 87 games, Raburn earned himself a two-year extension mid-season with the Indians. However, with all of the good Raburn did in limited action for the Tribe he was atrocious against right-handed pitchers, batting just .243. If Murphy can get back to batting .270 against righties, the Indians could have quite the platoon, as Raburn crushed lefties to the tune of .308 last season.
While the Indians have certainly made up for Drew Stubbs inability to hit anyone (.233 last season, .239 for his career), they did not really add to a power deficient lineup from a year ago. The lack of a power hitter was something many fans and pundits around the league expected, as the Tribe really didn’t scare anyone in the league with the middle of their lineup. After giving Murphy six million, it doesn’t look like they will be adding another outfielder any time soon.
With Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and the Murphy/Raburn duo in right, many people are currently wondering where the Indians will add a power bat to the lineup. With Yan Gomes announced as the starting catcher by manager Terry Francona, that essentially takes first base or designated hitter out of the question with Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana seemingly slotted to fill those positions. Jason Kipnis has a virtual lock on second base barring a Robinson Cano signing (Kipnis has already said he would move wherever for that to happen), so that really only leaves shortstop and third base for an upgrade.
The logical position to insert a power hitter would be third base, as the Indians have not had anyone man that position with power in quite some time. Unfortunately, the biggest name free agent as the position is 34-year old Juan Uribe, and he isn’t exactly a bundle of power waiting to happen. While the former Dodger batted .278 last season, the last time he hit 20-plus home runs in a season was 2010 in San Francisco.
Other names out there are Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young. Although at this stage of their careers neither are exactly ready to return to their glory days. However, with the Indians desire to bring veteran players back from the dead, let’s not rule them out just yet.
With very few options in free agency, the Indians could likely turn to the trade market to address adding power to the lineup. Enter one of this writer’s favorites, Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres. For those of you who have followed for a while, Headley has long been a trade target mentioned in my articles. With rumors coming out that the Padres are looking to deal him this offseason, the Indians should highly consider bringing in if they feel they can ink him to a long-term contract following the season.
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