The Braves tonight announcement they extended the catcher Sean Murphy on a six-year, $73 million contract. The deal comes with a $15 million club option for 2029 that doesn’t include a buyout. As part of the deal, Murphy will take home $4 million in 2023, $9 million in 2024 and $15 million in 2025-28. He will also donate 1% of his salary to the Atlanta Braves Foundation. Atlanta had only acquired the client from Rowley Sports Management as the headliner of a three-team trade that included the Brewers and the Athletics earlier this month. Murphy was eligible for first-year arbitration until 2023, so this deal buys out his remaining three years in control of the club as well as potentially four years as a free agent.
The move continues Atlanta’s recent trend of expanding its core of rookie players, and Murphy joins austin riley, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Spencer Strider and Michael Harris as players on the current roster who received long-term extensions while still under club control. This group of players can now be controlled by Atlanta until 2027, while only Acuna Jr. and Albies have deals that expire before 2029.
Murphy, 28, has established himself as one of the best receivers in all of baseball in recent seasons with Oakland. At plate, he hit 46 homers and a combined line of .236/.326/.429 over four major league seasons. It was good for a wRC+ of 116, indicating he was 16% better than the league’s average hitter. He also took a step forward at the plate in 2022, slashing his career strikeout rate by about 5% and posting a .250/.332/.426 line in 612 plate appearances.
Defensively, he has posted 12 defensive points saved since 2020, which puts him in the league’s top ten. The fangraph framing metric also ranks him as the third-best pitch framer in the sport over the same period. This combination of solid defense and above-average offense has accounted for a career 10.6 fWAR, with 2022 accounting for 5.1 of that total.
Murphy’s form, rebuilding Oakland and a thin free-agent market for catchers have made him one of the most talked about commercial chip trades in sports heading into the offseason. Indeed, up to nine teams were connected with him in the weeks leading up to his December 12 trade. It was also a good old-fashioned blockbuster, as the Braves sent Royber Salinas, Manny Pina, Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok in Oakland, and Guillaume Contreras and Justin Yeager to the brewers to close the deal.
The game with Atlanta wasn’t always the most obvious game on paper, given the Braves had a solid, infectious line of Travis D’Arnaud, Pina and Contreras on the books going forward. Obviously though, general manager Alex Anthopolous saw an opportunity to upgrade this group and dispatched Pina and Contreras to make room for Murphy.
This is now the second straight winter that Atlanta has traded for one of Oakland’s stars and immediately extended it. Last offseason, they acquired Olson and a day later signed him to an eight-year, $168 million extension. Olson has already established himself as a key part of the Braves core, and now it looks like Murphy will do the same from 2023.
As mentioned earlier, a series of expansions have established a strong core in Atlanta. In addition to these, they also have Max fried under control until 2024, rookie Vaughn Grissom until 2028, and Kyle Wright until 2026. For a team that won 101 games in 2022, it’s certainly encouraging for Braves fans to know that much of that core — and now their biggest offseason addition — will be long term.
According to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz’ predictions, Murphy was expected to earn $3.5 million in officiating this season, so he’ll only earn a $500,000 raise on that figure for next season. However, this is important for luxury tax calculations, which take into account the AAV of a contract. In Murphy’s case, it will be an AAV of just over $12 million that pushes the Braves into the top tier of luxury tax, though RosterResource estimates their actual payroll at around $198 million currently (the first luxury tax threshold is $233 million). Sure, the Braves could look to offload the salary to drop below that mark, but that would only be a small penalty on any overshoot at this point. Additionally, they will have just over $50 million in club options (without buyout) on charlie mortonof Arnaud, Kirby Yates, Collin McHugh, Orlando Arcia and Eddie Rosario decide on next winter, which could bring them comfortably under the threshold.
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