Daniel Murphy signed a three-year deal with the Washington Nationals over the offseason to fill the team’s hole at second base. How did he fare in 2016?
Last offseason, the Washington Nationals biggest need was an everyday second baseman. Their primary target, Ben Zobrist, turned down the Nationals’ offer and took less money to play with the Cubs. After that deal fell through, Washington shifted its sights to Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. The two teams tried to reach a deal, but Phillips exercised his no-trade clause and stayed in Cincinnati. Finally, the Nats settled on Daniel Murphy, the former Met who had a record-setting postseason in 2015, but was a notoriously bad defender.
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Boy, did the Nats luck out with this one. Zobrist went on to be an All-Star and put together a strong season, but is 35 and still has three years and $45.5 million left on his contract. Phillips had a decent year as well but his 94 OPS+ left much to be desired. And how about Murphy? Oh, he just put together an MVP-caliber season and led the National League with a .985 OPS.
After hitting seven home runs during the Mets’ pennant run in 2015, no one was quite sure what to expect out of Murphy coming into the season. New York certainly didn’t buy into the hype, letting their seven-year veteran walk. While Murphy certainly wasn’t the Nats’ first choice, his signing was easily the biggest bargain of the offseason.
Murphy finished the year hitting .347/.390/.595 with 25 home runs and 104 RBIs. He led the National League in doubles and slugging percentage. In a season where Bryce Harper wasn’t able to replicate his MVP form, Murphy stepped up and filled the role. His defense was admittedly a liability (Murph’s 11 errors were the second most on the team), but he more than made up for it with his bat.
It would be tough to image the Nats winning the NL East as easily as they did this season without Murphy in the center of the lineup. With two more years left on his deal, any playoff run the Nats make in the near future is going to include him playing a key role. At 31 years old, Murphy still has a big chunk of his prime ahead of him. The Washington Nationals’ window of contention is still wide open, and Murphy is one of the biggest reasons for it.