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What Would He Get Today?: Dwayne Murphy

With free agency just around the corner, Beyond the Box Score is about to heat up with Hot Stove talk. As you all know, I like to talk about all the latest stats—but from a historical angle (evidence). I'm going to take the same approach with my coverage of free agency. I'm not going to talk about the players filing this year. I'm going to look back at some interesting player situations from the past and ask the readership what those players would get as free agents this offseason (given the same circumstances).

Okay? Let's start with Dwayne Murphy. By the time I started following baseball, Murphy was already in the twilight of his career, trying to catch on after the A's let him become a free agent after a ten-year tenure. By the numbers of the day, Murphy's career didn't inspire much awe from me. He was a .246 hitter with 166 home runs and 106 stolen bases. He never scored or drove in 100 runs. He never hit .300. Heck, he never hit .275. He did, however, earn six consecutive Gold Gloves.

Murphy was set to become a free agent after the 1982 season. Oakland extended him for four years and a total of $3.375 million. That certainly wasn't chump change for the time—$843,750 annually was a little less than three times the average salary in 1983 (source). But Murphy strikes me as the type of player who would have money thrown at him on the free market today.

How good was he?

Most WAR, Center Fielders in Age 25-27 Seasons

Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age
1 Mickey Mantle 28.4 1957 1959 25-27
2 Tris Speaker 26.0 1913 1915 25-27
3 Willie Mays 25.7 1956 1958 25-27
4 Joe DiMaggio 23.5 1940 1942 25-27
5 Ty Cobb 22.9 1912 1914 25-27
6 Ken Griffey 22.6 1995 1997 25-27
7 Duke Snider 22.0 1952 1954 25-27
8 Rickey Henderson 21.9 1984 1986 25-27
9 Andre Dawson 20.8 1980 1982 25-27
10 Kenny Lofton 20.8 1992 1994 25-27
11 Jim Wynn 20.0 1967 1969 25-27
12 Bobby Murcer 19.1 1971 1973 25-27
13 Dwayne Murphy 17.0 1980 1982 25-27
14 Hugh Duffy 17.0 1892 1894 25-27
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/23/2011.

Only twelve center fielders in history posted more WAR in their age 25-27 seasons than Dwayne Murphy. This surprised me. Of those twelve, eight are easy Hall of Famers (the top 8). Three more are guys hovering around the borderline (Dawson, Lofton, Wynn) and Bobby Murcer (like Murphy) simply started his career by going nuts.

Murphy came up in 1978 (his age 23 season) and didn't do much (-0.2 WAR in 62 PA). His first full year was 1979 and he posted 0.6 WAR. He was +11 runs at the plate, but (uncharacteristically, it would turn out) worth -17 runs in the field. 1980 (at age 25) was his breakout. He was worth 19 runs at the plate (thanks to 102 walks) and 22 in the field (with his first Gold Glove), good for 6.3 WAR.

He followed that up with 4.1 WAR in the strike-shortened 1981 season, worth 20 runs at the plate and 9 in the field. In 1982, the year before he was to hit free agency, he was worth 6.1 WAR. He was again worth 20 runs at the plate and also worth 12 runs in the field. The thing is, he hit .238 that year. But he hit .238 with 94 walks (bumping his OBP to .349). He also hit 27 homers (for a .416 SLG) and stole 26 bases. His OPS of .767 isn't eye-popping, but his OPS+ was and impressive 116. Add in the world-class defense and he's a young, very valuable player.

The best recent comparison for Murphy I could think of might be Carlos Beltran. Beltran hit free agency after his age 27 season, as well. Over his 25 to 27 seasons, he combined for 16.8 WAR (to Murphy's 17.0). Beltran did have an advantage in total career WAR up that point, though: 28.1 to 17.4. Beltran was awarded a seven year deal worth $119 million. That's an average annual salary of $17 million, or about 5½ times the average salary in 2005 (source). Murphy ended up staying with the A's for four years at a total of $3.375 million.

My question is—if Murphy hit free agency this offseason with the same service time and same skill set (talent through age 27), what would he get?