With Ian Desmond officially off the board, the offseason rumor mill is on its last legs. The spring training position battle and intriguing-opt-out time of year is only just beginning. Here are two situations in that vein that could be worth monitoring in the coming weeks…
Pending Nats fifth-starter competition, Bronson Arroyo could be a late-March rotation option
There were plenty of teams in greater need of rotation depth than the Nationals when Bronson Arroyo was deciding where to sign in late January. A host of those clubs phoned to express interest in the veteran righty, who’s now a year-and-a-half removed from the Tommy John surgery that made his old contract with the Diamondbacks a sunk cost. In the end, Arroyo chose comfort over depth-chart security, preferring the familiarity of working with manager Dusty Baker over a greater chance of locking up a rotation job—albeit with an opt-out to let him pursue the latter elsewhere.
By most accounts, Arroyo has impressed in the early stages of spring, showing flashes of the command that made him a reliable starter for Baker and the Reds. That’s come in bullpen sessions, of course, with Grapefruit League action not yet underway, but there’s cause for optimism with the 39-year-old, which is all anyone involved can ask for as March begins. The question now is whether it will translate into games—and whether Arroyo has enough in the tank to unseat one of the younger starters currently slated to round out Baker’s staff in Washington.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez aren’t going anywhere, so Arroyo’s task is to bump either Joe Ross or Tanner Roark out of the incumbent quintet. MLB.com’s Jamal Collier wrote that Arroyo is not interested in long-relief or swingman duty, and that the right-hander told reporters that his contract requires the Nationals to tell him at least five days before Opening Day whether he’s won a rotation job.
Usurping Ross, a 22-year-old who shined in 76 2/3 innings as a rookie, would seem to be a very tall order. Tyson’s younger brother racked up a 3.64 ERA over 16 games, 13 of them starts, and was even better according to our advanced statistics, highlighted by a 3.38 Deserved Run Average. Despite the risks inherent in trusting young starters, barring a spring collapse, Ross might have a higher floor than Arroyo—and a considerably higher upside, to boot. The Nationals might want to monitor Ross’s innings, but Arroyo doesn’t appear to be interested in sticking around as a spot-starting caddy, so there’s probably little to see here.
The 29-year-old Roark might be on thinner ice. He was excellent in a swingman capacity as a rookie in 2013, and very good as a full-time starter in 2014, with a 2.85 ERA and a 3.66 DRA as a sophomore big-leaguer. But Roark’s 105 cFIP cautioned against betting on further excellence, and the righty slipped last season, when he made 12 starts and 28 appearances out of the ‘pen. Roark’s ERA soared to 4.38, but his DRA jumped even higher, all the way up to 5.22, and his 113 cFIP is a red flag going forward. It’s possible that Roark’s regression was the product of being jerked around from role to role, but if Arroyo were to top him in the fifth-starter race, the former 25th-rounder might be in line for more of the same.
With that in mind, notwithstanding the cozy relationship between Arroyo and Baker, an injury might be the veteran’s only clear route to a rotation job in the nation’s capital. An injury elsewhere, however, might make Arroyo an intriguing plug-in candidate if the Nats cut him loose in late March.
David Murphy could be an 11th-hour outfield depth option
Now 34 and likely on the backslope of his major-league career, 34-year-old David Murphy came full circle in the last few days. Murphy signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox, who drafted him 17th overall out of Baylor in 2003, gave him a brief taste of the bigs in 2006, and then shipped him off to the Rangers in the Eric Gagne deal at the 2007 trade deadline. The outfielder is back in Fort Myers now, where he spent his first spring training more than a decade ago, but he might only be there for a few more weeks.
Sean McAdam, who covers the Red Sox for CSN New England, tweeted Tuesday that Murphy’s pact with the Red Sox contains an opt-out that allows him to bolt in the last week of March if he does not attain a spot on their active roster. Barring a buzzing injury bug, Murphy’s odds of doing so appear to be grim.
The Red Sox are likely to open the season with Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts as their starting outfielders, from left to right. Chris Young, a right-handed hitter signed this offseason, is the fourth outfielder, and Brock Holt—a super-utility man who’s primarily an infielder but can play the outfield—gives John Farrell a lefty-swinging reserve. The presence of Brennan Boesch, a fellow non-roster invitee, means Murphy has competition from the left side of the batter’s box among the challengers, too.
Murphy showed a reverse platoon split in a small sample last year, but assuming that was just a blip in the data, he’s a reasonable pinch-hitting option or lineup-filler when a right-hander toes the hill for the opponent. The former Ranger, Indian, and Angel totes a .268 career True Average when blessed with the platoon advantage, which isn’t ideal for a platoon player but is adequate for a fifth outfielder providing insurance against injuries.
That’s what Murphy is doing for the Red Sox, at this stage, but if the outfielders ahead of him avoid the disabled list for the next 25-or-so days, there’s a good chance he’ll be doing it for someone else. And as last-minute outfield pickups go, teams in need could do a lot worse than David Murphy.
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