John Harper, for SNY.tv | Twitter |
The more you watch the Red Sox this October, the more obvious it is they are superior to the Yankees offensively, mostly with a relentless approach that has translated into remarkable success in two-out situations.
And that begs the question: how does the home run-or-bust team in the Bronx become better-rounded offensively and thus close the gap on its rivals?
For starters, Brian Cashman should sign Daniel Murphy.
All the speculation will be about Manny Machado when free agency opens for business in November, but in some ways Murphy could be at least as important to the Yankees, in the short term anyway, and certainly a lot less expensive.
Most likely they would need to open a spot in the outfield for Giancarlo Stanton, since Murphy would be best-suited mostly as a DH, while perhaps playing some occasional first base, and maybe second as well.
Ideally he's not an everyday position player anymore, certainly not at second base, at age 34 after micro-fracture knee surgery last winter.
But as a hitter Murphy is exactly what the Yankees need: a high-contact, high-average guy who can extend rallies with a clutch RBI, something that has defined the Red Sox this October, and produce his share of left-handed power as well.
In some ways, in fact, Murphy could be as important to the Yanks as J.D. Martinez is to the Red Sox.
Well, close anyway.
Martinez has been a revelation in his first year in Boston, and indeed the most obvious difference between the Red Sox and Yankees comes down to last winter's big-ticket additions, Martinez vs. Stanton.
One is a pure hitter with great power, the other is more of a one-dimensional slugger.
In retrospect, in fact, it is flabbergasting that nearly every team in baseball failed to see Martinez as being worthy of a huge free-agent investment.
Beyond his obvious production, Martinez's studious approach to hitting is being credited for influencing his teammates, getting them to buy in to the grind-it-out, put-the-ball-in-play style that has helped make the Red Sox so tough to beat this October.
"He's obsessed with hitting," Alex Rodriguez said on FOX's pre-game show this week in Boston. "He has a PhD. He should be down the street at Harvard because of the way he studies.
"He's always got an iPad, he's always sharing information. I had a guy like that in Edgar Martinez. The only difference for the Red Sox, going from good to great, is J.D. Martinez."
To which former Sox star and fellow FOX analyst David Ortiz added: "He's made everybody around him better. When he takes BP, everybody is watching and learning."
Is some of that effect on teammates overstated? Perhaps, but Martinez's numbers in 2018 speak for themselves, as he hit .330 with 43 home runs during the regular season and has continued to rake in the postseason, hitting .333 with a .967 OPS an 13 RBIs, the most of any player this October.
And surely it's more than coincidence that the Red Sox statistically have been the best two-out hitting team in the majors, both during the regular season and postseason, they're hitting an otherworldly .405 with two outs and runners in scoring position this October.
All of which brings us back to Murphy. His career numbers say he has been one of the toughest outs in the clutch for about a decade.
Consider that over 1,276 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, the ex-Met second baseman has hit .327 with a .485 slugging percentage and an .880 OPS.
And over 567 plate appearances with two outs and RISP, Murphy has hit .311 with an .874 OPS.
Mets' fans have seen both sides of his brilliance, of course, delighting in his magical 2015 postseason, then watching in misery as Murphy morphed into the mother of all Met-killers with the Nationals.
Along the way he rather famously changed his style, with the help of then-Mets' hitting coach Kevin Long, to become more than a singles hitter, piling up 176 extra-base hits in 2016-17 with the Nationals before his knee surgery delayed the start of his season in 2018 until June and impacted his overall numbers, as he hit .299 with a .790 OPS.
However, major-league scouts believe Murphy returned to playing before the knee was ready, in an effort to help the struggling Nationals, and the numbers seem to bear that out: on July 8, after his first 22 games, Murphy was hitting just .194.
"He looked like he was playing on one leg," is the way one scout put it.
From there Murphy hit .324 with an .858 OPS, and scouts believe that after another off-season he'll be healthy and back to his usual form.
"He can hit .300 in his sleep," one scout said.
Meanwhile, like Martinez, Murphy is consumed with hitting. As Long once told me, "He's always thinking about
it. And he processes information probably as well or better than any hitter I've ever had."
Apparently Murphy made believers of the Cubs as well after being traded to them in August.
"Our guys loved talking hitting with him," team president Theo Epstein told reporters at season's end. "It was a daily occurrence: long discussions about hitting with him, picking his brain."
As such Epstein made it clear he'd love to find a way to re-sign Murphy, but defense is an issue, and there's no doubt at this point it makes more sense for him to play in the American League where he can DH at least some of the time.
The Yankees, as mentioned, have some position issues to sort out, especially with Didi Gregorius having undergone Tommy John surgery, and it probably will take a three-year deal to lock up Murphy, but Stanton ought to be able to handle playing the outfield regularly for at least that long, which would be the key to making it work.
Obviously Machado would have a great impact as well, but at what price? With Stanton on board for nine more seasons, are the Yankees going to lock themselves into two such lengthy mega-deals?
Whatever the answer, Murphy should be their first move. They need his left-handed bat and perhaps his hitting mindset as well. In short, they need to be more like the Red Sox and J.D. Martinez.