Murphy Addition Creates Opportunities for Rockies to Juggle Alignment

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With the signing of veteran infielder Daniel Murphy to a two-year, $24 million deal, the Rockies may not have checked every box on their off-season-to-do list. General manager Jeff Bridich did, however, fill in a lot of the blanks with the one move.

The Rockies are coming off a season arguably the worst in franchise history. They hit .256, the lowest team average in the franchise’s 26 years of existence. They had a .322 on-base percentage, second lowest in franchise history. And they scored 780 runs, ranking 15th in franchise history.

Oh, they have advanced to the post-season in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history. That, however, merely whetted the franchise’s appetite. A team that has advanced past the Division Series only once – losing in the World Series in 2007 – is looking for bigger and better things, and the addition of Murphy is believed to be a step in that direction.

So, does Murphy.

“Having played in the post-season the last four seasons, one of the main things my family and I was to identify a ballclub that we thought had a legitimate shot at winning the World Series,” said Murphy. “The Rockies came up at the top of that list when we started identifying clubs. I’m ecstatic that the Rockies’ interest in me was as significant as mine in the ballclub.”

And the Rockies felt the same about Murphy.

“He has been a professional hitter for a long period of time,” said Bridich. “He has a lot of different skills as an offensive player that I think complement the guys we theoretically have in our lineup. … He’s able to control the barrel. He’s able to utilize the whole field. … The expectation and the hope are his slow heartbeat and his experience can make our team better in those type of stressful situations.”

The numbers reflect well on Murphy.

In the last four seasons, he leads the major leagues with a composite .357 with runners on base, and his .348 average with runners in scoring position is third best in MLB, 11 points behind leader Nolan Arenado. And he is a .330 career hitter at Coors Field.

But that’s not all.

He can step in a first base, which sets off a series of moves the Rockies were hoping they could make in 2019.

While the bulk of his big-league playing time has come at second base, Murphy isn’t kidding anybody. He battled to do the job in the middle infield.

“In speaking with Mr. Bridich, the organization (feels) it seems like (first base) is the best fit for me,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I’ve done it before. And full disclosure, I’m more comfortable at first base than I am at second.”

That allows the Rockies to move Ian Desmond back to the outfield.

“We have had conversations with Ian dating back to the end of the season last year, when he and Buddy (Black, manager) initially chatted about it,” said Bridich. “Initially we’ve also had conversations with Charlie Blackmon about a likely shift to one of the corner spots. I think Ian can probably play left and center.”

And with the idea of moving Blackmon to left, and putting Desmond in center, it leaves the Rockies in position to keep David Dahl in right field.

The addition of Murphy also adds to the options at second base, considering the loss of DJ LeMahieu to free agency. Garrett Hampson seemed the leading candidate for the job – at least until No. 1-ranked prospect Brendan Rodgers gets some quality time at Triple-A Albuquerque – but now comes the thought of platooning Hampson, a right-handed hitter, and Ryan McMahon, a left-handed hitter, at second base. And Bridich isn’t writing off Pat Valaika, who struggled in a bench role last season.

“A lot of things can happen between now and the start of Spring Training, but we’re really, really excited that we have legitimate guys who can fit in,” said Bridich. “You named a few, and Pat Valaika is in Mexico trying to prepare himself for Spring Training, and to have a better season in 2019 than he has in 2018.

“Hopefully he will be in there, and we have some kids underneath those three guys who should be able to come (to spring training) and compete. Again, I use the phrase, `That’s a good problem for us, multiple guys who we think can help us at that position, and we will see what happens throughout the rest of the season.”

And with the start of spring training two months away, it’s not like the Rockies are running out of time to make another move or two.

“We definitely are going to stay involved and invested in the off-season,” said Bridich. “It’s not like we are going to shut things down. … Obviously we are not going to be looking for a first baseman. … We’ll probably be a little bit patient and see some of the things that happen.”