The Chicago Cubs made a stunning move Tuesday by acquiring second baseman Daniel Murphy from the Washington Nationals. Murphy was placed on revocable waivers and claimed Monday night, allowing both teams to hammer out a deal.
The deal cost the Cubs minor league infielder Andruw Monasterio and cash considerations or a player to be named later. For a low price, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have added a solid insurance policy for the stretch run.
While starting pitching might be the biggest concern, the lineup has been erratic throughout the season and struggled since the All-Star Break. They’re slashing a collective .251/.323/.387 with a .711 OPS in 30 games. Each of those numbers rank in the middle or bottom half of the National League.
The Cubs’ feast or famine mentality can be difficult to watch. One day they can go off for 10 runs and move the line seamlessly at the plate. The next day, they can strand runners in scoring position and get shut out by an inferior team.
Their latest cold stretch is truly bizarre. They’ve managed to score only one run in each of the last five games. All of them coming off solo home runs.
Murphy is a welcomed addition to a lineup that needs some stability, and he adds offensive protection to an infield that has some question marks in the short term.
Kris Bryant remains on the DL and isn’t expected to return until September. Addison Russell, who was scratched from the lineup before Tuesday night’s game against the Detroit Tigers, continues to put up anemic numbers at the plate. Since July 1, he’s slashing .213/.272/.272 with no home runs, 11 RBI and a .544 OPS.
There’s a chance Russell could find his way on the DL soon. A DL stint would let the team avoid making a costly corresponding roster move for Murphy, and it would allow Russell to rest his ailing shoulder and hand.
Even if Russell returns once rosters expand Sept. 1, he wouldn’t be guaranteed to get his starting shortstop gig back. Second baseman Javier Baez is just as effective at shortstop, and it would let Murphy settle in every day at second base.
While it’s no secret that Murphy is a liability on defense, Joe Maddon likely will favor his bat over Russell’s elite defense down the stretch and possibly into the postseason.
Murphy missed the first two months of the season with a knee injury and struggled out of the gate. However, he’s settled into a groove the last 28 games since the All-Star break.
- First 28 games –.252/.309/.333 with 1 home run, 12 RBI and a .643 OPS.
- Last 28 games – .340/.370/.534 with 5 home runs, 17 RBI and a .904 OPS.
His postseason numbers certainly played a role in the acquisition. In 24 playoff games, Murphy slashed .323/.407/.613 with 8 home runs, 19 RBI and a 1.020 OPS. The Cubs witnessed it first hand in the 2015 NLCS when he belted a home run in all four games. He not only won the series MVP award, but he also cashed in a big payday that offseason.
Murphy’s numbers at Wrigley Field also are noteworthy. He’s hitting at a .413/.440/.702 clip with 7 home runs, 14 RBI and a 1.142 OPS in 28 career regular season games at the friendly confines.
Adding Murphy does have a couple negatives. For starters, the roster has even more redundancies in the infield, especially once Bryant returns. Fortunately, Maddon loves to piece lineups together based on match-ups and he definitely can find the right combination to trot out regularly.
Murphy also has some controversy that can’t go unmentioned. He made homophobic comments in 2015, referring to homosexuality as a “gay lifestyle.” Even though he has slightly backtracked on his statements, some Cubs fans understandably will have trouble rooting for Murphy.
In that regard, the move feels similar to when the team acquired closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees in 2016. Chapman proved to be a valuable addition to the bullpen, but there were still fans who did not actively root for him or felt dirty that he has on the roster.
But, purely from a baseball standpoint, you can’t ignore that the move could have tremendous upside as a short rental. It’s hard not to daydream about a lineup that could feature Murphy, Bryant and Rizzo batting second, third and fourth, respectively.
Even with a 71-53 record that leads the National League, the Cubs needed a shot in the arm. Similar to how Cole Hamels helped jumpstart the starting rotation, there’s definitely a chance Murphy can do the same at the plate.
And it couldn’t come at a better time.