Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Prior to the Brian McCann signing the Yankees seemed ready to give the catching position to one of their several catching prospects. But Francisco Cervelli's injury, and Austin Romine's poor season, made the McCann signing inevitable. Now that the Yankees signed an all-star type catcher for the next few seasons they really have a few expandable catchers in their system.

The most logical Yankee trade chip is John Ryan Murphy. Murphy's value is pretty high right. He is ready for the majors, but probably won't get an opportunity to play there as a Yankee this season. Both Cervelli and Romine need to rebuild their value after 2012, and likely won't get as much as Murphy.

According to Keith Law, Murphy would have the ability to start for a few MLB teams.
Law had this to say about Murphy, he “looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations.” Law also stated that Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody.”

With that said, Murphy hasn't really made any top 100 lists. He may have come close, but in general he isn't considered a top 100 prospect. However, he did make one top 100 prospect list. A list that didn't rank prospects on their upside or talent, but rather on their 2014 projections.

According to Dan Szymborski's projection system (ZIPS), Murphy is projected to have the 45th most productive season of all prospects. His zWAR  is greater than fellow catchers Max Stassi and Blake Swihart; as well as players like Rafael Montero and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Murphy is projected to put up a zWAR of 1.6 next season. It isn't the highest figure, but when you consider the state of catching depth in other organizations it appears to be a significant number. Remember zWAR is comparable to fWAR, so it means he is worth about 1.6 wins. Below is a list of teams who may need to improve their catching depth.

 Atlanta Braves                 zWAR                  Pitch Framing (wins/per seasons from 2009-2013)

 Evan Gattis                      1.9                              .02
 Gerald Laird                      .6                             -1.8 

Evan Gattis is currently the Braves starting catcher, and despite being a pretty poor defensive catcher he is projected to put up a higher WAR than Murphy. However I have serious doubts that he will last a full season as the Braves starting catcher, and Laird really loses a lot of value due to his poor framing skills. Because of this it may make sense to trade for a catcher. However, unlike some of the other teams on this list they have a very good catcher in their farm system. Their number 2 ranked prospect is Christian Bethancourt, who should begin the season in AAA. Assuming he develops like he should and Gattis stays productive, I really see no reason why they would trade for Murphy.

Chicago White Sox            zWAR                    Pitch Framing                

Josh Phegley                      1.6                              .04
Tyler Flowers                     0.6                             -.2

It's interesting that Phegley is projected to be their best catcher, as the White Sox don't really seem to believe in him. After Phegley the team has little other options, according to Baseball America the team has zero catchers in their top 30 prospect list. Murphy would give the White Sox a prospect with a better future than Phegley, but with similar 2014 projections. Of course it's possible that Murphy pitch framing abilities are better than average, which would mean he'd be more valuable than Phegley. A trade with the White Sox would be intriguing and will discussed below. But it's important to remember how rare prospect for prospect trades are, and that it's impossible for me to know how each team views their prospects.

Cincinnati Reds              zWAR                         Pitch Framing

Devin Mesoraco               2.0                                 -.20
Tucker Barnhart               1.8                                 ??
Brayan Pena                      .2                                  .39

I'm still not entirely sure why the Reds picked Pena over Hanigan, but the move puts the team at risk. If Mesoraco doesn't improve and reach his projections, or if he gets injured, the teams next best option may be Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart is a good defender but his bat isn't there yet, and he would need to spend time in AAA. Barnhart could be a starter, and is ranked as the teams 10th best prospect, but that would require the team allowing him to skip AAA. So if anything bad happens to Mesoraco the Yankees would make a likely trade partner. Though if the team believes in Barnhart they probably wouldn't give up much.

Los Angeles Angels          zWAR                         Pitch Framing

Chris Ianetta                      2.0                              -.41     
Hank Conger                     1.3                              .63

On the Surface it would appear that the Angels are set at the catching position, but there are few things to consider. For one thing Ianetta is only on the team for two more years, and Conger's long term value is still unclear. The second thing to consider is the value of pitch framing, which Conger excels at, and Ianetta struggles with. If we assume that Murphy is an average pitch framer, which seems like a safe bet considering that he has Tony Pena as a coach, he would be the most valuable backstop in this group. 

The Angels have two catching prospect in their top 30, but neither prospect is highly thought of. The Angels best catching prospect is Cal Towey, who may actually have some potential if he proves to be a catcher. Towey was taken in the 17th round last draft, and was a third baseman in college. He will project better as a catcher, but he actually has to show the ability to play there. Either way he is far from the majors.

Their other catching prospect is Jett Bandy who was ranked as the systems 25th best prospect. At this point Bandy looks more like a defensive specialist than a starting player. But he is in AA, and would probably be ready by the time Iannetta reaches free agency.

With that said the team doesn't really need Murphy right now, and unless they really question Conger's future potential they probably shouldn't go for him. This may be the same team that gave Jeff Mathis playing time over Conger, but they have a new general manager in charge, and their coaches desire to have a defense first catcher may not be so important anymore. Which is really a shame because Murphy could have been a useful piece in a Howie Kendrick trade.

Los Angeles Dodgers      zWAR                    Pitch Framing

A.J. Ellis                           2.4                            -.57                                         
Tim Federowicz                1.6                            .02 

Like the Angels, the Dodgers have a good starter that struggles with pitch framing. Overall Ellis is thought of as a good defensive catcher, who has some offensive value. However he did regress offensively last season, and he probably won't rebound at age 33. If he continues to decline or gets hurt the Dodgers would probably look for a trade. But at the moment they do not seem like the type of team that would be interested in Murphy. Outside of their major league catchers they have one top 30 catcher in Tyler Ogle.

Like Towey, Ogle isn't a a proven catcher, and some consider him more of a first baseman. His bat would make him an intriguing  prospect as a catcher, but he really needs to develop a better defensive game at that position. If the Dodgers make a trade with the Yankees it will probably be a midseason trade, and that will depend how good the each teams catchers are performing at that point.

Oakland Athletics            zWAR                         Pitch Framing   
Derek Norris                      2.0                                .05       
John Jaso                           1.9                             -1.06

The A's are another team that don't really have an immediate need for Murphy. Norris may not be developing as quickly as the team wanted him too, but he's fine for the position. Jaso on the other hand probably shouldn't be put behind the plate. If Norris gets hurt it's possible that they try to acquire some of the Yankees depth but at this point in the year. Then again Stephan Vogt isn't a bad backup option. Like the Dodgers a trade doesn't make a lot of sense now, but could at the trade deadline depending on what happens. Iolana Akua is their 30th best prospect and is their only catching prospect in their top 30 list. Akua looks like a defense first catcher, and is only in rookie ball.

Tampa Bay Rays                                                   Pitch Framing

Ryan Hanigan                    1.5                                 2.22
Jose Molina                       1.2                                  2.22

The Rays have two of the best pitch framers in baseball, as both players are ranked in top 5. Additionally, the Rays finally seem to have catching prospects in their system. Nick Ciuffo, was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, and is already thought to be one of the best catching prospects in baseball.  He is expected to be a good all-around catcher. Baseball America ranked him as the 9th best catching prospect in baseball, and the 7th best prospect in the team's system.

The Rays have several other catching prospects in their system as: Justin O'Conner, Oscar Hernadez, and Curt Casali are all on the team's top 30 list. Casali is the furthest along of these players, but the 29th ranked prospect has his flaws. His biggest problem is throwing runners out, and because of that he may not be able to be a starting catcher in the majors. O'Conner and Hernadez both have higher ceilings but are very far from the majors. O'Conner who is the team's 12th ranked prospect has yet to play in A+, and Hernadez the team's 24th best prospect will begin the year in A-Ball.

Like the Dodgers a trade with the Rays doesn't make sense unless someone gets hurt. Considering Hanigan's 33, and Molina is 39, that may not be out of the question. But even with an injury to both players a Yankees Rays trade will probably not happen, because both teams are in the same division.

Texas Rangers                 zWAR                              Pitch Framing

JP Arencibia                      1.4                                       -0.06
Geovany Soto                    1.3                                      -1.08   

The Rangers might be the best fit on this list. While the White Sox have a bigger need for a catcher the Rangers are actually trying to contend next season. If Murphy could be an average to above average pitch framer he could be could end up giving the Rangers one extra win or more. One reason that it could be more is that Arencibia actually had negative value last season and his high was 1.1.

The 1-2 Win gain that Murphy would offer would be pretty significant in a close division. Additionally the Rangers have a very deep system and have a lot of major league depth. So the team could make a move without really affecting their future.

Because of the presence of Jorge Alfaro, the Rangers won't give up too much, but if they give the Yankees some of their pitching or infield depth they should be able to get a deal done. The presence of Murphy will allow the Rangers to compete without the temptation of rushing Alfaro who is still in A-Ball. In addition to Alfaro the Rangers have an interesting prospect in Kellin Deglan. Deglan has a lot of power but still needs to work on his defense. Deglan is only in A+, so he too is far from the majors to make an impact next season.

Toronto Blue Jays             zWar                                      Pitch framing

Dioner Navarro                  1.5                                             -.08
Josh Thole                         1.0                                               .78

Navarro had a good season last year, and was signed as a starter so it's unlikely that the Jays make another move at this point. Again it's also unlikely that the team trades within their division. Murphy would probably be an improvement over this starting core, but it's not really a move the Jays have to make. Especially since they have a good catching prospect in A.J. Jimenez. Jimenez is almost major league ready, and while he doesn't have the greatest  bat he is a good defender. The Jays also have an interesting prospect in Santiago Nessy who battled concussion problems last season, but may develop into a decent prospect.

Chicago White Sox trade scenario:

The White Sox are  a rebuilding team, that has some interesting players. They have an Ace in Chris Sale, and a potential middle of the order bat in Jose Abreu. They also made a shrewd move to acquire two interesting prospects from the Diamondbacks; Matt Davidson, and Adam Eaton are both major league ready prospects. The team also has a couple of good prospects that should become full time regulars this season in Erik Johnson and Marcus Sieman.

With all this MLB ready talent, the White Sox should be an interesting team to watch in the next few years.The team still doesn't have a good farm system and one of their systems biggest weakness is the catching depth. According to Baseball America the team has no catchers in their top 30. John Ryan Murphy would fit an immediate need, and since he is still a prospect he would fit in nicely with their plans to rebuild.

If the White Sox aren't willing to give up prospects for Murphy, than the most likely Yankee targets are: Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, Nate Jones, and perhaps some other bullpen arm. None of these player are great options for a guy like Murphy. Ramirez is the best fit but it would probably take him some time to learn a new position so the team would have to acquire him soon. Ramirez would be relatively costly but can probably be counted on to provide 2-2.5 War at this point of his career.

Another option is trading Murphy for some of the White Sox prospects. This may not be realistic because the team is rebuilding, but they should be desperate for a starting catcher.  Marcus Semien would be the most tempting prospect that the White Sox have. He may not be their best SS prospect, but he is major league ready right now. His ZIPS for the 2014 season are almost identical to Murphy's which may suggest that they have similar values. If they don't have equal values, one team could add more talent, it doesn't really matter these trade proposals are just meant to paint a picture.

Semien can play both second and short making him a very good fit for the Yankees. Additionally he may be expendable to the White Sox as they have other solid second base and shortstops prospects. Players like Tim Anderson, Carlos Sanchez, Micah Johnson, and Gordon Beckham, may make him somewhat expendable. Johnson and Sanchez may also make sense for the Yankees, but I feel the Yankees would want major league ready players.

Another option may be engaging the White Sox in a three team trade, as a player Like Alejandro  De Aza has no place to really start on either team. De Aza is a 2-3 WAR player, so he does have some value, just not to the Yankees. As a 30 year old, it is doubtful that he is a part of the White Sox rebuilding plan. De Aza would have a lot of value to teams like the Mariners that are desperate for outfielders. The Mariners could then potentially give up a player like Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin to the Yankees. This would of course depend on who else is in the deal, as Ackley has little value, while Franklin may still have a lot.

Considering that most teams teams that need a starting catcher are either in the AL East, or already have semi-decent starter, it would be best to hold onto to Murphy. As of now Murphy would be valued as a backup. But teams like the Rangers, Dodgers, A's, Blue Jays and Rays may see him differently at the deadline.

Even with White Sox, we see that a trade may not be so easy to pull off at the moment. Because of this I feel that the team should keep Murphy until the trade deadline. Let him play in AAA, and build up his own value, then maybe just maybe a team will get desperate by the all-star break. He clearly is better or just as good as some of the starting options on other teams, but I do not feel that now is the right time to make a trade. If Murphy is projected to do this well in the majors, he will probably have no troubles in AAA, and become a better trade chip.


Josh Sabo is a Minor League writer for Yanks Beat Blog.


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