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The Case For Keeping Sean Murphy in Oakland

Today, we look at how the Oakland Athletics organization is faring and ponder whether the team should retain catcher Sean Murphy.Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Rich Campbell

As the hapless A’s limp toward the finish line, a story generating some chatter locally (and nationally) is whether the team might part with catcher Sean Murphy in order to acquire more assets this offseason as the franchise’s rebuild moves into its second year.

The logic is that rookie catcher Shea Langeliers, who was called up on August 16, has looked the part with nine extra-base hits in 64 at-bats and arrived with a reputation as a strong defensive catcher. So why not trade Murphy?

The argument here is that great players are hard to find and Murphy is a great player. Not only does he have a Gold Glove in his trophy case, but he also leads the AL in defensive games at catcher and assists this year. In addition, he has been the team’s best hitter this year with a RC+ of 126 (the league average is 100). And Murphy is only 27 and not eligible for free agency until 2026. 

As more evidence of just how good Murphy is, his 4.2 WAR/162 ranks 33rd all-time amongst catchers. Granted he is early in his career and that number tends to drop as catchers age, but it is still an impressive stat. Among active backstops his WAR/162 trails only Orioles’ rookie phenom Adley Rutschman (7.3), the Dodger’s Will Smith (4.8), three-time All-Stars J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Contreras (4.6), and the Blue Jays All-Star 23-year-old Alejandro Kirk (4.3).

Murphy is the kind of young, proven, low-cost veteran rebuilding teams should be acquiring, not dealing. Here’s hoping the 2023 A’s split the catching and DH roles between Murphy and Langeliers and address their roster reconstruction without losing Sean Murphy.

Record Recap: The A’s had a record of 41-74 when we last checked in and have gone 9-11 since then to fall to 50-85. With 27 games to play, the team seems unlikely to match the Oakland record for losses, which was set by the 1979 squad with a record of 54-108. Did you know that was the A’s only 100-loss season since moving to Oakland in 1968? So, the goal for this year is to NOT lose 100. A record of 13-14 down the stretch will result in avoiding the ignominy of a second 100-loss season.

How rare are 100-loss seasons? In the AL West, the Mariners have suffered through five 100-loss years (last in 2010), the Rangers have had three such seasons (last in 2021), the Astros pulled that trick off in three consecutive seasons (2011-13), while the Angels have never lost 100.

Who Is the New Guy? With such a young team this year, this space will focus on a new player each month. Making his MLB debut on July 12 was first baseman Dermis Garcia. He was acquired in March as a minor league free agent, after spending seven years in the Yankee organization where he slashed .232/.321/.472. Since arriving in Oakland, Garcia has slashed .308/.400/.539, which is likely small sample size magic. Still only 24, Garcia is exactly the kind of player the A’s should be auditioning in this rebuilding campaign.

Old Guys Report:  There are fewer old guys to report on after the releases of Jed Lowrie, Elvis Andrus, and Stephen Piscotty. In fact, the only remaining older position player is Stephen Vogt. As noted in this space last month, veteran leadership can only carry a player for so long. It was a highlight of the 2022 season when Vogt hit a game-tying extra-inning homer at the August 27 game against the Yankees and the post-game interview was a touching moment for the two-time All-Star as his on-the-field career is just about over.

Coming Up:  The next homestand is highlighted by the return of Matt Olson with the Atlanta Braves, followed by a visit from the White Sox. On Sunday, September 11, the A’s will formally retire Oakland native Dave Stewart’s number 34. For younger readers, Stewart won 20 games four seasons in a row from 1987-1990. Based on the way pitchers are used today, Stew may be the last man in MLB history to ever pull off that feat. It should be a great day at the Coliseum.

The rest of the schedule unfolds with series at the Rangers and Astros, a homestand versus the Mariners and Mets, followed by visits to the Angels and Mariners before the season concludes with a three-game set in Oakland against the Angels. 

Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night. He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly.  You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.

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