Ranger outfielder David Murphy recently expressed his wish to become an everyday part of the Texas lineup by earning a regular spot at one of the three outfield positions.
But Murphy and the Rangers both know, if that happens, it won’t be this year.
Manager Ron Washington was quick to give the starting centerfield job to Julio Borbon at the beginning of spring training and with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz anchoring the corner outfield spots, it looks as if Murphy will be relegated to his usual fourth outfielder role/DH role filling in for guys who are either injured or need a day off.
Murphy has been in that role since Texas acquired him near the end of 2007 and he’s seen his playing time increase each of the last three seasons- 108 in 2008 to 128 in 2009 to 138 last year- so keeping Murphy as fourth outfielder in 2011 wouldn’t be unfamiliar to the 29-year-old and wouldn’t take away as many at-bats as you’d think.
But Murphy turns 30 in October and whether Texas wants to or not they’ll have to start making some long term plans for an player that has the ability to be a starting outfielder nearly anywhere else in major league baseball.
So let’s look at a few of the Rangers’ options when it comes to handling Murphy:
Option A: Keep Murphy as the fourth outfielder like he has been the past three seasons.
This is definitely the safest move and the one that would be in the best interest of the team. Murphy provides the kind of depth in the outfield few teams have. If Cruz or Hamilton, who have both been injury prone, are banged up or need a day off, Washington can put Murphy at either position for a game or two and the offense would barely skip a beat. But the biggest thing Murphy brings to the table is his ability to play centerfield. That’s especially handy when your centerfielder is young like Julio Borbon. If Borbon gets off to a rough start and begins to slump, Murphy could easily fill in for a while and be a consistent producer.
The only risk Texas runs by keeping Murphy as a fourth outfielder is that most guys don’t want to spend their entire career as an outfield utility player. Murphy has been one of the most team-first, unselfish guys in the Ranger clubhouse but even someone like him has to have a breaking point. This isn’t to say that what Texas is doing to Murphy is wrong, but at some point Murphy is going to want to play for team where he can be an everyday starter.
Option B: Trade him and hope Borbon hits and Hamilton and Cruz stay healthy
Texas could use some bullpen depth and there has to be a team out there that could use some outfield depth. The Rangers would be able to get someone that could either produce right now or a prospect that would be useful down the road if they traded Murphy.
Murphy is a career .291 hitter and if he were to play a full season he’d hit around that mark and hit somewhere between 15-25 home runs.
The risk here is that although Texas might be able to bolster their bullpen, their offense could take a hit if Borbon struggles or Hamilton or Cruz get hurt.
Murphy, a luxury they’ve had for three years, wouldn’t be there if that happened.
Option C: If Borbon struggles, give Murphy the starting job in centerfield and commit to him long term
This would take a full-committal effort on the part of the Rangers, something they’ve been hesitant to do when it comes to Murphy.
Last year, Borbon began the season as the leadoff hitter and slumped miserably. Washington eventually moved him to the nine hole and he went on to have a decent year hitting .276. He’ll begin 2011 in the same spot in the lineup so he may not struggle at all, but if he does Murphy would be the first guy off the Ranger bench to replace him.
And if that happens, then I think it would be time for Texas to fully commit to Murphy. Give him the starting job for the rest of the season and re-sign him in the offseason. Texas knows what they’re going to get out of Murphy and with Hamilton and Cruz playing in the outfield and hitting the way they do, knowing that your third outfielder will hit .290-.300 with 15-25 home runs a year is pretty reassuring and something worth committing to.
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Topics: AL, AL West, American League, American League West, Baylor University, Baylor University Baseball, David Murphy, Josh Hamilton, Julio Borbon, Major League Baseball, MLB, Nelson Cruz, Ron Washington, Texas Rangers, University Of Tennessee, University Of Tennessee Baseball