The Braves tonight announced they’ve extended catcher Sean Murphy on a six-year, $73MM contract. The deal comes with a $15MM club option for 2029 which does not include a buyout. As part of the deal, Murphy will take home $4MM in 2023, $9MM in 2024, and $15MM in 2025-28. He’ll also donate 1% of his salary to the Atlanta Braves Foundation. Atlanta had only acquired the Rowley Sports Management client as the headliner of a three-team trade that included the Brewers and Athletics earlier this month. Murphy was first-year arbitration-eligible going into 2023, so this deal buys out his remaining three years of club control as well as potentially four free agent years.
The move continues Atlanta’s recent trend of extending their core of starting players, and Murphy joins Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Spencer Strider and Michael Harris as players on the current roster that have received long-term extensions while still under club control. That group of players can now be controlled by Atlanta through 2027, while only Acuna Jr. and Albies have deals that expire before 2029.
The 28-year-old Murphy has established himself as one of the best catchers in all of baseball in recent seasons with Oakland. At the plate, he’s hit 46 home runs and a combined .236/.326/.429 line across parts of four big league seasons. That’s been good for a wRC+ of 116, indicating he’s been 16 percent better than the league average hitter. He took a step forward at the plate in 2022 as well, knocking around 5% off his career strikeout rate and posting a .250/.332/.426 line over 612 plate appearances.
Defensively, he’s posted 12 Defensive Runs Saved since 2020 which places him in the top ten league wide. Fangraphs framing metric ranks him as the third-best pitch framer in the sport in that same period as well. That combination of strong defense and above-average offense has amounted to a career haul of 10.6 fWAR, with 2022 accounting for 5.1 of that tally.
Murphy’s form, Oakland’s rebuild and a thin free agent market for catchers made him one of those most hotly talked about trade chips in the sport going into the off-season. Sure enough, as many as nine teams were connected with him in the weeks leading up to his December 12 trade. It was a good old-fashioned blockbuster as well, as the Braves sent Royber Salinas, Manny Pina, Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok to Oakland, and William Contreras and Justin Yeager to the Brewers to complete the deal.
The match with Atlanta wasn’t always the most obvious fit on paper, given the Braves had a strong catching trio of Travis D’Arnaud, Pina and Contreras on the books moving forward. Clearly though, general manager Alex Anthopolous saw an opportunity to upgrade that group and shipped out Pina and Contreras to make room for Murphy.
It’s now the second-successive winter that Atlanta have traded for one of Oakland’s stars and immediately extended him. Last off-season, they acquired Olson and a day later signed him to an eight-year, $168MM extension. Olson has already established himself as a key part of the Braves’ core, and now it seems Murphy will do the same from 2023 onwards.
As mentioned earlier, a raft of extensions have established a strong core in Atlanta. As well as those, they also have Max Fried under control through 2024, rookie Vaughn Grissom through 2028, and Kyle Wright through 2026. For a team that won 101 games in 2022, it’s certainly heartening for Braves fans to know that much of that core – and now their biggest off-season addition – will be around long term.
Per MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’ predictions, Murphy was slated to earn $3.5MM in arbitration this season, so he’ll take home only a $500K raise on that figure for next season. That is significant for luxury tax calculations though, which account for a contract’s AAV. In Murphy’s case, that’ll be an AAV of just over $12MM which pushes the Braves into the first tier of luxury tax, despite RosterResource estimating their actual payroll sitting at around $198MM currently (the first luxury tax threshold is $233MM). Of course, the Braves could look to unload salary to get below that mark, but it’d only be a small penalty on any overage at this stage. Further, they’ll have just over $50MM worth of club options (with no buyouts) on Charlie Morton, D’Arnaud, Kirby Yates, Collin McHugh, Orlando Arcia and Eddie Rosario to decide on next winter, which could comfortably get them back under the threshold.