Murphy stays positive on Rangers bench
Playing time remains elusive for reserve outfielder
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers had their first-team lineup on the field for the Cactus League opener against the Royals. So what was David Murphy doing on Sunday?"I'm going to do nothing," Murphy said. Such is life for the Rangers fourth outfielder. This is the guy who spent Opening Day in 2011 on the bench before putting the Rangers ahead with a pinch-hit, two-run double in the eighth. But he also started 12 of 17 playoff games and finished batting .317 for the postseason with a .429 on-base percentage. As the Cactus League opener shows, playing time remains a day-to-day proposition, and he treads carefully when asked if he's ever asked the Rangers to trade him.
"You take the positive and the negative in each situation," Murphy said. "I would definitely like to play more. But I don't think I could be in a better situation with the guys I'm with, the coaches I'm with, playing in my home city and having been to two straight World Series."In the fourth-outfielder situation I'm in, it's definitely an acceptable situation when you look at what this team has done the last two years and the opportunities ahead." He might not have to worry about playing time if the Rangers decided to play Josh Hamilton in center field. That may come to pass -- it always does in the playoffs -- but the Rangers' intentions right now are to let Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin compete for the center-field job. Hamilton was in left field on Sunday and the Rangers are hoping to keep him there as much as possible this season. So Murphy remains the "fourth outfielder." "I wouldn't use that label," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's one of our regulars. The way [manager Ron Washington] uses guys rotating them through the outfield and the DH spot, in addition to the disabled-list issues we've had in the past, Murph is a huge part of our team." That's why the Rangers haven't traded him, and that's why they continue to pay him. "We've been asked about him by other teams who perceive him as an everyday player and he doesn't have that label with us," Daniels said. "But we view him in that light. He may have the best makeup on the club. He's right there with everybody." Murphy has been eligible for arbitration for two straight years. This winter he and the Rangers settled for $3.625 million. Murphy admitted that's a nice contract for a fourth outfielder. "If they're willing to pay this much money to fill an undefined role, they must see value in me," Murphy said. "Most quote-unquote bench players don't make that much money. Most other organizations will trade them or non-tender them." The Rangers haven't done that mainly because Hamilton and Nelson Cruz have missed a total of 246 games over the past three seasons through a combined nine trips to the disabled list. Murphy hasn't been on the disabled list since 2008 when he sprained his knee in a home-plate collision with then-Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. They also haven't done so because Murphy has a .774 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) over the past three years. That ranks him 45th among 103 full-time outfielders who have played in at least 250 games in that stretch. He may not be an All-Star but his OPS over the past three years is higher than Ichiro Suzuki (.748) of the Mariners and Vernon Wells (.743) of the Angels. "I don't think I can place a value on Murph," Washington said. "He drives in big runs and gets big hits. He's a producer, the kind of guy you want on your team." Murphy is one of 11 players from the Rangers' World Series roster who can be free agents within the next two years. Three of them are outfielders. Hamilton is a free agent after this season while Murphy and Cruz are eligible after 2013. That might be an opportunity for Murphy to go find an everyday job somewhere, unless he replaces somebody here. "That's not even a thought in my mind," Murphy said. "I know it will come faster than it seems but I'm playing for a championship team. A lot of people dream of being on a championship team. Why should I be in a hurry to get out?" Because there might be a chance to play somewhere else. "I'm just coming into Spring Training with a positive outlook not only for myself but my team," Murphy said. "I know I've had a lot of at-bats in the past because Josh and Nelson got hurt. I don't want that to happen. I want to see what 'Nellie' can do over 155 games. He could be an MVP candidate. "We know Josh is an MVP candidate. I want to see those guys on the field all year. I know we have guys competing for the center-field job. I wish those guys nothing but the best. I'm just going to go out there and be the best player I can possibly be. I'm not in my mid-20s. I'm 30 but I feel I can get better and keep hoping I can get on the field as much as possible."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.