Yunel Escobar had a nice 2015 in Washington, but at 33, you have to figure his decline is coming, soon.
So the Nationals traded Escobar in the offseason to the Los Angeles Angels for 23-year-old reliever Trevor Gott and minor-league pitcher Michael Brady, trying to sell high after Escobar’s .314/.375/.415 slash line and 3.5 wins above replacement to go with nine homers and 56 runs batted in in 2015.
The Nats made an illogical run at Brandon Phillips (age 34, .294/.328/.395, 12 HR, 70 RBI, 1.9 WAR) before settling on Daniel Murphy (age 30, .281/.322./.449, 14 HR, 73 RBI, 1.4 WAR) for three years and $37.5 million.
The Murphy deal does a couple of things. You’re trading in a 33-year-old Escobar for three additional prime years from a 30-year-old Murphy. You also get a reliever in Gott (4-2, 3.02 ERA, 1.238 WHIP in 2015).
And maybe just as important as any of the rest of it, you take a key guy out of the middle of the lineup of a division rival.
And not just any division rival, but the New York Mets, for whom Murphy has hit .288/.331/.424 over the past seven seasons, including an All-Star selection in 2014 and an NLCS MVP honor in 2015.
He adds a lefty bat to a lineup that has just one other left-handed bat returning, 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper.
One thing Murphy doesn’t do is bring more than a serviceable glove to the Washington infield, which will have former Gold Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmerman at first, presumably Danny Espinoza or Trea Turner at short and Anthony Rendon at third.
Murphy isn’t going to have Nats fans thinking Nellie Fox or Roberto Alamar in the infield.
But with just 38 strikeouts in 532 plate appearances in 2015, he would seem to be a perfect hit in the two hole for the Nationals, helping set the table for Harper, Zimmerman, Rendon and Jayson Werth in the middle of the order.
The lineup has the making of being a formidable, productive force in 2016.
– Column by Chris Graham