Update: Of course, no more than 20 minutes after I wrote this and set it to post, we find out that Nady will not need surgery and will return this season. I still advocate everything in this article. Murton can provide minor league depth now and possibly slide into a starting or bench role next year.
The loss of Xavier Nady highlighted the Yanks’ depth. Rather than scrambling to find a replacement they were able to install Nick Swisher as the full-time right fielder. While some take the glass half empty path and note that the Yankees cannot sustain another injury, the rest of us recognize that the injury and seamless replacement is a testament to said depth. It’s not an ideal situation; no injury is. The depth has kept the Yanks afloat for now, though they could certainly restock in the coming weeks.
Nady’s injury is felt hardest on the bench. The presence of both Nady and Swisher meant that on any given day the Yankees would have a big bat on the bench to hit for the likes of Jose Molina, Cody Ransom, and Brett Gardner. Now, not so much. When the Yanks trot out their “A” lineup, featuring Hideki Matsui at DH, the bench consists of Melky Cabrera, Jose Molina, and Ramiro Pena. Chili Davis, Cecil Fielder, and Darryl Strawberry they are not. They could add Juan Miranda, who could give them some pop, but he’s largely unproven at the MLB level.
The answer could be sitting in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system. The A’s sent Matt Murton to the Rockies in the Matt Holliday trade for Corey Wimberly, and he is now languishing at AAA. That’s a shame, because he has a strong MLB track record and is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball at AAA this year (.409/.480/.636, though in the massively hitter-friendly PCL). Murton broke out in 2006, collecting 508 plate appearances for the Cubs and posting a .297/.365/.444 line. He followed that up in 2007 with a .281/.352/.438 line, though in only 261 plate appearances. By the time 2008 rolled around he had fallen out of favor, and collected just 42 PA with the Cubs before they sent him to the A’s, where he stepped to the plate just 31 times.
Murton and Nady are surprisingly similar players. Surprising because one has been sought-after (by the Mets, then by the Pirates, and finally by the Yankees) while the other has been cast out by three teams now. In fact, through their age-25 seasons Murton was demonstrably better — Murton’s age-26 season obviously skewed because he got no playing time. He’s only 27 this year and has just over two years of service time, so he’ll be under team control for the next three years, maybe more depending on how much time he spends in the minors this year.
(On the physical attribute side, Nady is listed as 6’0, 180, which I’m pretty sure is undershooting his weight, while Murton is 6’1 215. So they’re not far off there, either.)
Dave Cameron has some thoughts on Murton, wherein he cites Matt’s .345 career wOBA, an above-average mark (though we could have inferred that from the slash stats above). His best line, though, comes towards the end: “There’s no way that there are 750 better baseball players on the planet that Murton.” Count Melky Cabrera on that list. Cameron also notes that we should “[b]et on a smart organization reaping the rewards when they bring Murton back to the majors.” Let’s hope the Yanks are that smart organization. He brings to the table what Nady did, except he’s younger and under team control for longer. If the Yanks are looking for an outfielder to replace Nady, which they very well may not be, they could do a whole ton worse than Matt Murton.