Giants Complete Catcher Tandem With Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants shored up their catcher situation late Monday, signing Tom Murphy, formerly of the Mariners, to a two-year contract worth $8 million. A third-round pick by the Rockies, that club had little playing time available for him due to the presence of superstars like Tony Wolters and Nick Hundley. At risk of becoming an organizational player, he found a new home with Seattle, which paired him with Omar Narváez and watched the home runs flow like alcohol in Belltown. In four seasons of timeshare catching there, Murphy hit .250/.324/.460 with 38 homers in 807 plate appearances. Patrick Bailey (rightly) remains the starting catcher in San Francisco, but he now has a high-quality junior partner when rest or the occasional offensive oomph is needed.

Since Murphy’s initial season with the Mariners (2019), his best in the majors to-date, he’s suffered a run of injuries that have prevented him from seizing larger portions of a starting job. A broken foot in the COVID-shortened 2020 ended his season before it began, and a shoulder injury cost him most of ’22. By the time he was healthy again, Cal Raleigh had become a key part of the lineup and earned the lion’s share of the playing time.

Bailey is the no. 1 catcher in San Francisco, a deserving Gold Glove finalist in his rookie season. What he isn’t is an offensive powerhouse. ZiPS projects 2.4 WAR from him in 105 games, but that’s largely driven by a defensive projection of 13 runs better than the average catcher, not a projected .226/.294/.361 triple-slash. And that’s where Murphy comes in, both spelling Bailey on rest days and giving the Giants the tactical opportunity to get a better bat in the late innings when they’re facing a deficit and could use an additional hitter. Also helping Murphy in getting plate appearances is the Giants long being a team that has protected the health of its starting catchers; Buster Posey only started 120 games there once in his career.

So how much offense could Murphy supply in San Francisco?

ZiPS Projection – Tom Murphy
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .254 .327 .430 193 25 49 10 0 8 25 21 60 0 108 -1 1.1
2025 .246 .320 .410 183 22 45 9 0 7 23 20 58 0 101 -1 0.9

2024 ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Tom Murphy
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 15 13 .309 .385 .546 149 2.2
90% 14 12 .296 .373 .521 141 2.0
80% 13 10 .283 .357 .490 131 1.8
70% 11 9 .271 .348 .469 125 1.6
60% 11 9 .263 .338 .449 116 1.4
50% 10 8 .254 .327 .430 108 1.1
40% 10 8 .240 .319 .414 102 1.0
30% 9 7 .231 .310 .398 95 0.8
20% 8 6 .218 .295 .380 87 0.5
10% 7 5 .199 .279 .342 74 0.2
5% 6 5 .185 .265 .316 62 0.0

The projection is down a bit from his 116 OPS+ in Seattle, but he’s also going to turn 33 the first week of the 2023 season, and Oracle Park is not a particularly generous home for power hitters. Still, that’s a valuable complementary player. Amusingly, this is actually his second stint with the Giants; he was claimed off waivers from the Rockies during spring training in 2019 before being traded to the Mariners just a few days later.

This move also likely closes the rapidly waning Joey Bart era in San Francisco. At one point the consensus best catching prospect in baseball, he suffered his first setback in the minors very early, losing much of his first full professional season to a broken hand. With the minor leagues not existing in 2020, the Giants saw the risks of him being overmatched in the majors as less than simply not playing him for a year. I agreed with the calculation — it’s generally better to challenge your best prospects, and losing another year would have been huge — but Bart struggled. He continued to fight injuries in 2021, and while he hit better for Triple-A Sacramento, ZiPS only gave him a .263/.323/.390 translation for the season. Then he failed to impress in 2022, and given the starting job entering ’23, he lost it in just over a month. By the time Bailey became the no-question starter, Bart had already been passed on the depth chart by Blake Sabol.

ZiPS Projection – Joey Bart
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .228 .297 .351 302 39 69 13 0 8 37 23 103 1 80 -1 0.7
2025 .226 .295 .349 301 38 68 13 0 8 37 23 101 1 78 -1 0.6
2026 .226 .296 .350 297 38 67 13 0 8 36 23 98 1 79 -1 0.6
2027 .222 .295 .342 266 34 59 11 0 7 32 21 88 1 77 -2 0.4
2028 .216 .286 .338 222 27 48 9 0 6 26 17 73 0 73 -2 0.2

ZiPS Projection – Blake Sabol
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .229 .296 .368 345 40 79 14 2 10 52 30 124 4 83 -9 0.2
2025 .226 .295 .365 345 40 78 14 2 10 52 31 120 4 82 -9 0.1
2026 .227 .297 .369 339 39 77 14 2 10 51 31 116 3 84 -8 0.2
2027 .231 .302 .380 321 38 74 14 2 10 48 30 109 3 88 -8 0.4
2028 .224 .296 .369 295 34 66 12 2 9 43 28 99 2 84 -8 0.1

There were other options available in free agency, but Mitch Garver would likely want a larger share of playing time than Murphy, and despite his superior position in our free-agent rankings, I like Gary Sánchez on the Giants less than I like Murphy. And $4 million a year for your lesser catcher in free agency isn’t a bad deal; even the skinflint Rays sign a player like Mike Zunino or Wilson Ramos to a similar type of contract most years. Nor will $4 million hamstring San Francisco’s attempts to sign one of the remaining elite free agents available.

Does Murphy make the Dodgers uncomfortable in the NL West? No, but San Francisco now enters the season with its best catching outlook since Posey retired, and in Murphy, the Giants found their man at a very reasonable price.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Lanidrac
4 months ago

If Posey had known that Bart would only be a AAAA player, do you think he would’ve played another year?

kick me in the GO NATSmember
4 months ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

I don’t.

hughduffy
4 months ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

No. Buster Posey was done.

“I kind of went into this last season feeling like it might be my last,” Posey said. “I just gave myself some space in my mind to be OK with deciding otherwise if I wanted to keep playing. I just never really wavered. I think it really allowed me to really, really empty the tank this year like I never have before.”

And he did. In 2021, he had the best season of any catcher by fWAR.

Catching is rough on the body. Being able to play with his young kids without more pain was part of why he decided to quit playing.

“The reason I’m retiring is I want to be able to do more stuff from February to November with my family,” Posey said. “Physically, it’s much harder now, and to be honest, it’s hard to enjoy it as much when there’s physical pain that you’re dealing with on a daily basis.”