When the Red Sox brought lefty David Murphy back to Boston on a Spring Training invite in February, they knew this day was coming. In the middle of his contract that was set bring him back to the MLB team he started with, there was a big date stamped that gave him the option to opt out and once again enter free agency. That date finally arrived on Sunday, March 27.
According to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald his choice has been made, with playing time up in the air among a fully loaded field of Boston outfielders Murphy has decided to opt out.
That now creates an intriguing predicament for the Sox, who now have two days to make a vital decision on how their roster will look on Opening Day. They have until Tuesday to alert him on if they plan to have them on their major league roster when they head to Cleveland to begin the 2016 season or will let him walk away back into free agency. It won’t be an easy one by any means either.
With the team retaining Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. off their sensational 2015 seasons they largely have a set outfield and many would even argue that Rusney Castillo’s spot in left field should be a lock as well. However Boston’s roster decisions would lead you to believe that is not the case as, along with Murphy, the team brought in veteran outfielder Chris Young over the offseason too. Then there is the presence of Travis Shaw, who has ripped the ball to shreds this spring, and super-utility man Brock Holt who will need at-bats somewhere in the field.
All those factors likely weigh some level of pressure on Castillo, but nothing compared to what likely feels like several tons of bricks on the back of the team’s front office after two straight seasons in last place. There is no room for error after clearing much of the house in 2015, especially for manager John Farrell who is 121-155 since he led the team to a championship in 2013.
They signed Castilloa year later to a seven year, $72.5-million contract, though he has still yet to flourish and prove himself a staple in a MLB lineup despite spurts of success. In 309 MLB at-bats around several minor league stints he has posted a .262/.302/.379 batting line for a grand total of a 1.6 wins above replacement rating.
There has been success but nothing consistent while the missteps he has committed have been concerning, so having alternatives in camp was a healthy response but to bring Murphy into the mix would be an assertion that Castillo will not start the season at the MLB level. The former has made it clear that he will not be playing for Pawtucket and that his intention of signing with the Sox was to play major league baseball with consistent at-bats, even stating he may retire if no opportunities present themselves.
After opting out today Murphy had this to say:
“I’m holding out hope I end up here…but all the same I’d like a big league job somewhere. I’m going to keep getting my work in because opening day is coming up quickly…there are no hard feelings…it’s the business side of baseball. Things might work out, they might not. It’s not like I came in here 100 percent thinking I was going to make this team. I was thankful for the opportunity but I think as a veteran player it’s nice to have that luxury to try to opt out a little bit sooner to give myself the biggest window until opening day to try to find a job if it’s not going to be here.”
The case is certainly there to retain him and hand him the left field position to start the season against Cleveland while more evaluation is given to Castillo, who is the only viable option for a stint in Pawtucket among Boston’s outfielder. Going into Sunday this spring Murphy is 9-29 with three doubles and three RBI while Castillo is 10-43 with a double, four walks, and five K’s. The uncertainty over the latter is building, but not to the level where the team should be making concessions to a 34-year-old middle of the line player reaching the latter stage of his career.
Conceding to veterans was a significant reason the Sox finished the last two seasons where they did, as the 2013 veteran squad was held too long into 2014 while the 2015 group was derailed but the heavy under-performance of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval paired with a horrendous team pitching staff. The one hint of success through both of those years was towards the latter end of ’15 when the team bought into its youth under Torey Luvollo.
The likes of Castillo, Betts, Bradley, Blake Swihart, and Shaw drove the team to a 27-20 record once Farrell departed for cancer treatment on August 14 and missed the rest of the schedule. During that stretch Castillo hit .240 with .640 OPS but posted 11 extra base hits and 14 RBI in 146 while beginning to find his comfort in left field. Murphy hit .283/.318/.421 between the Indians and Angels in 132 games and ultimately fell back in a free agency market that didn’t meet heavy demand from teams across the league. He didn’t sign with Boston until camp had already begun down in Ft. Myers.
According the reports the Red Sox will have their team relatively finalized on Monday where they will also come to agreement on whether or not Murphy will be part of their plans. They then leave Florida for Montreal on Thursday where they will play the Blue Jays on April 1 and 2 before beginning their regular season schedule against the Indians on April 4. Another minor league stint could be helpful for Castillo but after being part of the core of players who helped the Red Sox win late last year I’d like to see him in left field on Opening Day, especially when the alternative is a career .274 hitter who wants to play regularly. Besides the team has Holt and Young along with other minor league options for the outfield anyways in case Castillo becomes a disaster, its better not to count him out before the season even begins.