Why the Aaron Hicks for John Ryan Murphy Trade Helps Both the Twins and Yankees
Whenever a trade during Major League Baseball's offseason is reported, the first question that comes up will inevitably be, "Which team won?"
I'll admit that I'm 100 percent a victim of this. After all, when two sides are exchanging assets, one has to come out looking better than the other, right? I don't believe that was the case Wednesday.
With the Minnesota Twins trading Aaron Hicks to the New York Yankees for J.R. Murphy, it's entirely possible that both teams made their respective units better than they were previously. Sure, one team will likely end up getting more production than the other, but the tale of a trade runs much deeper than that.
Let's break this puppy down through the perspective of both teams to see why this could end up being a rare win-win in the transaction department.
Hicks Can Contribute From Day 1
Prior to 2015, Hicks seemed destined to have the "bust" label follow him throughout his big-league career. He rose through the Twins' system with gusto, garnering big-time prospect hype several years in a row. That didn't translate into success right away with Hicks posting wOBAs of .266 and .291 his first two seasons.
This year was different. Hicks' offense saw a major spike, especially after he returned from his initial trip to the disabled list in July. From July 3rd until the end of the year, Hicks hit .259/.333/.432 with 10 home runs over 291 plate appearances. This included just a 16.8 strikeout rate with a 9.6 walk rate. It looked like he was really starting to figure things out at the plate.
The improvements weren't just confined to the offensive side, though. Hicks' defense was what caught attention initially.
Although his defensive production dropped after he suffered a hamstring injury in August, he still managed to make great strides from his previous output. He ended the year with a 3.9 UZR/150 for his time in center field. That was compared to marks of -6.9 and -5.0 over his first two years out there. A full, healthy year from Hicks could allow that number to rise even more.
So, if we can say all these great things about a guy who will be entering his age-26 season, why would the Twins be willing to ship him off? They've just got too many outfielders.
Even after Torii Hunter's retirement, the team still has holdovers Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton available to patrol the outfield. Max Kepler was the team's Minor League player of the year this past season and could be ready to hold down a corner outfield spot in the not-so-distant future. And even after a putrid 2015, Oswaldo Arcia is still in play just because of the stupid amount of pop his bat brings.
Add on top of all of that general manager Terry Ryan's plan to move stud Miguel Sano into the outifeld, and you've got yourself a full-blown log jam. They'll likely still move Arcia, but even that would leave them with a plethora of young talent in the outfield. It made Hicks expenable, and the Yankees were simply the benefactors of this overflow.
Hicks brings to the Yankees a bunch of assets that they can use with their current roster construction. He mashes lefties with a career .272/.360/.447 slash and a 39.2 fly-ball rate that will play well in Yankee Stadium. Considering how conscious manager Joe Girardi has proven to be about platoon splits, Hicks has utility even if he's not an every-day starter.
If the Yankees decide to trade Brett Gardner, Hicks appears to have the abilities to step in and start from the get-go. This is less of a sure thing as he's yet to put together a full season of productivity. However, if the offense lags a bit, his defense may be able to make up the difference. This trade gives the Yankees flexibility to address other needs by floating Gardner on the market.
The Twins Needed to Upgrade at Catcher
Heading into the offseason, it was never a question whether or not the Twins would upgrade behind the dish. It was just a question of which catcher would be the target.
The Twins' catchers collectively accounted for 0.1 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) in 2015. This was the 28th best total in the league. Their .262 wOBA was also 28th, and their -9 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranked 22nd. Not great, Bob!.
Unfortunately for the Twins, this didn't appear to be the product of bad luck, either. Kurt Suzuki -- who saw the lion's share of time at backstop -- had a 24.7 hard-hit rate on the year. His on-base percentage slipped to .296 after he saw it surge to .345 in 2014. Suzuki still has another year left on his deal, but the team couldn't afford to wait that out if they wanted to push for the playoffs in 2016.
Murphy doesn't have a track record of great offensive success in the minors, but this was an encouraging year for him. He finished his 172 plate appearances with a 32.8 hard-hit rate to go with a 12.1 soft-hit rate. Twins catchers were at 24.5 and 15.6 percent in those two categories respectively last year.
Although Murphy's results are skewed by a heavy dose of lefties (he had exactly 86 plate appearances against both left-handed and right-handed pitchers last year), his hard-hit data was not. He actually had a higher hard-hit rate against righties (35.1) than lefties (30.5). His strikeouts did go up a bit, but Murphy was able to hold his own against pitchers of both handedness.
Clearly, it's way too soon to declare Murphy as being an upgrade over Suzuki. If he can duplicate the batted-ball numbers he posted in 2015 while being anything close to competent defensively, he will be. And if he is, he should be able to win himself additional playing time quickly. But the sample size simply isn't large enough to say definitively that this will be the case.
In acquiring Murphy, the Twins gave up depth in a spot of overflowing bodies to address one of their biggest needs. The Yankees pick up a high-upside, young outfielder while also giving up a resource from a position of depth. They also now have the flexibility to make additional moves and address other areas of concern.
It's too early to say that this is a certain win for both sides, but it does appear that way on its face.