Whatever the reasoning, the Cubs have acquired former Mets and Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy in a waiver deal, as first reported by the Athletic’s Robert Murray. Murphy is also known for his reprehensible, hateful comments in 2015, when he stated that he “disagree[s] with the fact that [former MLB player and MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean] is a homosexual (sic).” Heading to Washington is High-A middle infielder Andruw Monasterio, who has managed a career minor league OPS south of .700 in almost 1400 plate appearances. It’s a meager return for a player who fields like a statue at his primary position, has no defensive versatility, and has hit slightly above league average this season. The Cubs will reportedly send cash or a player to be named later to the Nats as well.
Maybe Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were watching “highlights” from the 2015 NLCS this week. Maybe they thought, “four second basemen on this roster isn’t nearly enough.” Maybe they thought their roster, as currently constructed, was actually too inclusive.
After two seasons of offensive dominance in Washington, when he posted .985 and .928 OPS marks and placed second behind Kris Bryant in 2016 MVP voting, Murphy has settled in as a slightly above league-average hitter once again. He’s hit .300/.341/.442, good for a 105 OPS+, a 108 wRC+, and a .280 TAv, with characteristically small walk and strikeout rates. He’s hit well of late—.343/.375/.545 over the last month—and offers high contact skills for a team that has sought contact the past few years. Presumably, he will play second base most days, with David Bote remaining at third base and Ben Zobrist remaining in his utility role.
There are a few ways to interpret this deal, all of them comparatively bleak. The first is that Addison Russell will likely head to the disabled list, which probably should have happened weeks (months?) ago, since Russell has submitted his second straight season of offensive decline after just barely sniffing league average in 2016. Of course, there was no need for the Cubs to trade for Murphy in order to DL or bench Russell: the team could easily slide Javier Báez to shortstop and play Zobrist, Bote, and Tommy La Stella at second and third base until Bryant returns. A defensive configuration with Báez at short and one of that trio at second would be a downgrade, but the offensive boon would more than make up for it.
The deal for Murphy also portends bad news regarding Bryant, who has been sidelined for weeks with a sore shoulder. Murphy offers them a safety blanket if Bryant isn’t able to return before the playoffs, or if he returns and hits poorly. There’s a chance the Cubs prophylactically acquired Murphy, in case Bryant’s shoulder doesn’t allow him to return; there’s also a chance that they are skeptical that Bryant will return at all, and that they play to play Murphy at second base almost every game and in the playoffs.
At this point, the uncertainties surrounding this team are greater than they have been in a few years. The 2018 Cubs are probably better than the 2017 Cubs, regardless of injury, but it’s hard to feel good about this team as currently constructed, with September and the playoffs looming. There are a few things we do know, however. One is that Addison Russell is starting at shortstop tonight and hitting ninth, so he might not even head to the disabled list. Another is that Daniel Murphy is not the hitter he was in 2016, and that he might not even be particularly good anymore. And ultimately, there’s quite a bit not to like about this deal, both from a baseball perspective and from a human perspective (although, I should note, the former should always defer to the latter).
Murphy has said hateful things, and the Cubs have once again acquired a player who has said or done harmful things, while they continue to spout paeans about “makeup” and “character.” While Billy Bean has spoken about Murphy’s willingness to speak with Bean about what they have in common, fans do not owe Murphy the same patience. There are also countless other players in MLB who hold the same views as Murphy, but who remain anonymous (and, as we recently saw as several players’ hateful tweets resurfaced, there are many who are no longer anonymous). Murphy voiced his hateful thoughts, and the only consequence he received was a $37 million contract.
This Sunday, the Cubs will host Out at Wrigley once again. Considering the Cubs’ lack of reluctance in acquiring players who have been abusive, violent, or hateful, there is little chance that the organization’s decision making has changed, or will change. Trading for Murphy is a blow to any hope for a more inclusive culture in Cubs baseball, and the message to those who would critique the club for such a move is clear. Daniel Murphy is a Chicago Cub, but who is listening?
Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports