One of the brightest spots of the 2019 Seattle Mariners has been the catching tandem of Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez. Both are having career years and the catching position has never been healthier. So naturally, let’s trade one.
Okay, so that’s a bit of hyperbole, but the Mariners are going to be active this winter and both Murphy and Narvaez carry a fair amount of trade value. Trading one could be a good way to add talent to the roster elsewhere without touching the farm system or could add to said farm system.
Now, it is important to remember that GM Jerry Dipoto doesn’t have to trade either one. Both are controlled beyond 2021, the year set forth as the beginning of a championship window by Dipoto 10 months ago.
Together, they make a dynamic tandem. One is right-handed, one is left-handed. One is a plus defender, the other is fringey. And one has a bit more power while the other has a better OBP skill. They compliment each other well and having 2 guys you feel comfortable catching 100 games or more is never a bad thing.
But let’s assume both draw reasonable interest this off-season and each generates an offer Dipoto deems as good return. We also need to assume that the Mariners would like to keep at least one, though trading both is not out of the question.
But with those parameters, let’s dive into the two players, and let’s start with Omar Narvaez. As of August 30th, Narvaez is slashing .282/.354/.463 with 19 home runs, a 9.6 BB%, and an 18.8 K%. Most of these numbers are well within the margin for error for his career with the exception of home runs.
But considering the new ball and current offensive environment, a bump in home runs is to be expected. Defensively, Narvaez has improved greatly at the plate but is still a below-average defender. He has become a league-average framer but is still a 40-grade catch-and-throw guy and a 45-grade blocker right now (20-80 scale, 50 is average).
Narvaez will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this off-season meaning he has 3 more years of club control remaining (2020-2022). These 3 years cover Narvaez prime, his age 28-30 season.
Now, let’s take a look at Tom Murphy. In 209 PAs, Murphy is slashing .284/.321/.589 with 16 home runs. Now here is where the offensive separation lies between Murphy and Narvaez: Murphy has a 4.8% walk rate and a 34.8% K rate. Narvaez literally walks twice as often as Murphy and strikes almost half as much.
However, Murphy is a significantly better defender. He ranks in the Top 10 of pitch framing and is improving and is a 55-grade blocker and 50-grade catch and throw guy. In fact, the defensive gap is so large that Murphy (2.5 fWAR) is worth a full win more than Narvaez (1.5 fWAR), despite only having half the PAs.
Murphy won’t be arbitration-eligible until after next season, meaning he has 4 years of club control, 1 of which at around the league minimum. Those 4 years cover Murphy’s age 29-32 season.
Overall, Murphy is the better defender with more club control while Narvaez is a much better bet to be an above-average bat who is younger. The answer to the question, “Which one do the Mariners trade”, may come down to which one will get you the better offer.
We don’t know how teams value these players, so it is difficult to say. Narvaez would be appealing to a team who has a defensive-minded catcher on the roster who could offer Narvaez PAs at DH and even first base.
Murphy could be more appealing to a team looking for a pure catcher in an offensive friendly park. Overall, there probably isn’t a right answer to which to keep. But with Austin Nola showing he can handle big-league pitching to some degree, and Cal Raleigh not far away, the catching logjam may need to be cleared sooner than later.