5:47PM: The Braves aren’t going to be the team that lands Murphy, Feinsand tweets in a new update, though the A’s do still look like they’re nearing a deal. Anthopoulos told Justin Toscano of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter links) and other reporters that the Braves are planning to go into the spring with Contreras, d’Arnaud and Pina behind the plate. Offers could be considered out of due diligence, but Anthopoulos said “I do not anticipate a trade, so just to shut that down.”
5:03PM: After months of trade speculation, Sean Murphy may on the verge leaving Oakland, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (Twitter link) reports that “the Athletics appear to be getting close to” moving the catcher. While multiple teams are in the running, the Braves are somewhat surprisingly “considered the frontrunners” to pry Murphy away from the A’s.
This isn’t the first time Atlanta has been linked to Murphy, as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported about the Braves’ interest just two days ago. However, that interest was characterized mostly as a case of due diligence, and how Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos is open to exploring all trade possibilities, even if his team is seemingly set at a position.
Even with William Contreras, Travis d’Arnaud, and Manny Pina all on the catching depth chart, it makes sense why Atlanta could view Murphy as a preferable option to its in-house choices. Murphy is both a quality hitter (.236/.326/.429 slash line over his career, 116 wRC+) and a quality defender (excellent framing numbers and a Gold Glove in 2021), plus he is still arbitration-controlled through the 2025 season. Projected for a modest $3.5MM salary in 2023, Murphy’s team control is naturally attractive to any club, and perhaps particularly so for a Braves team that has started to approach the luxury tax threshold for the first time since 1998.
Due mostly to several contract extensions for incumbent players, Atlanta is projected for a luxury tax number just shy of $228MM in 2023, and thus not far below the $233MM tax threshold. To be clear, the threshold isn’t a barrier, as the team is already considering exceeding the tax line to help further reinforce a contending roster. With new ballpark revenue streaming in and one World Series title in 2021 already claimed, it makes sense that the Braves would be willing to keep spending at franchise-record amounts to keep the good times rolling. That means Atlanta could consider moves like acquiring Murphy and also possibly re-signing free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson.
Adding Murphy would also naturally create a surplus behind the plate, even with Contreras perhaps getting the bulk of his time at the DH spot. d’Arnaud is owed $8MM in 2023 with an $8MM club option for 2024, while Pina is owed $4.5MM next season with a $4MM club option for 2024. Pina already seemed like something of a trade candidate even before the Murphy rumors began swirling, but the injury-prone d’Arnaud could also potentially be shopped. Moving Contreras would be the biggest of the possible moves, as between his hitting potential and team control through the 2027 season, the Braves could land a nice return in any Contreras trade.
If the A’s did trade Murphy to Atlanta, it would mark the third time that the Billy Beane/David Forst front office (now with Forst in charge of baseball operations) has swung a blockbuster trade with Anthopoulos. It was less than a year ago that Matt Olson was acquired by the Braves as Freddie Freeman’s replacement, with Oakland receiving Cristian Pache, Shea Langeliers and right-handers Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes in return. Back when Anthopoulos was the Blue Jays’ general manager, he and the A’s combined on the major deal that brought Josh Donaldson to Toronto in December 2014, with Oakland getting another four-player package back.
This familiarity between the front offices and the Athletics’ familiarity with the Braves’ farm system are certainly reasons why Atlanta may be outpacing other teams for the heavily sought-after Murphy. The White Sox, Guardians, Rays, Cardinals, and Red Sox are just some of the teams known to have asked about the All-Star, and it’s probably safe to say that any team with a vacancy behind the plate has been in contact with the A’s. In fact, Murphy’s overall value is high enough that probably even some seemingly unlikely suitors like the Braves have also been checking in about his services.