Catcher is by far the thinnest position in fantasy baseball — its .663 collective OPS last year was 25 points beneath the next-lowest, center field (.688) — so anytime a notable backstop changes teams, it’s a potentially big story for our purposes.
Monday’s trade was a whopper, involving a pair of 2022’s top names at the position. Sean Murphy, who had the fourth-most fantasy points (295) among catchers and ranked eighth at the position on our Player Rater, was the biggest name in the three-team deal between the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics. But William Contreras, the No. 6 catcher on the Player Rater whose 2.3 fantasy points per game average was fifth-best among those who appeared in at least half their teams’ games, might actually benefit more from his own inclusion in the trade.
Interestingly enough, the catcher who resided between these two on our Player Rater (not to mention had the eighth-most points (237), Travis d’Arnaud, remains in Atlanta, where he’ll now presumably serve as Murphy’s backup. Murphy is one of the most complete catchers in baseball, a top-10 pitch framer in each of the past two seasons, one of the better players at reining in stolen bases, and he has had at least 10.5% Barrel and 41.4% hard-hit rates, per Statcast, in each of the past three seasons. d’Arnaud will probably steal more playing time from Murphy than any of Austin Allen, Christian Bethancourt, Shea Langeliers or Stephen Vogt did in Oakland, but there’s a good chance Murphy will have games and plate appearance totals closer to his 2022 (148 and 612) than 2021 (119 and 448) numbers, accounting for his skills and stronger health history.
Getting out of the Oakland Coliseum, one of the most pitching-friendly venues in baseball, and moving to Atlanta’s Truist Park, which was neutral to slightly hitting-friendly for right-handed hitters in the past three seasons (per Statcast), is a boon to Murphy’s fantasy prospects. Much more importantly, however, the move from the rebuilding Athletics lineup, baseball’s second-worst last season (3.51 runs per game), to the Braves’ potent order (third-best 4.87 runs per game), could on its own make up any substantial loss in plate appearances to d’Arnaud’s presence. Remember, better lineups turn over more often — the Braves averaged 1.35 more PAs per game — not to mention the boost in RBI opportunities if Murphy slots sixth or seventh in the order.
Before getting to Murphy’s fantasy ranking, Contreras also enjoys a substantial ballpark bump as a result of his trade from the Braves to the Brewers. Milwaukee’s American Family Field has some of the smallest outfield dimensions in the game, and is well-known for being homer-friendly. To that point, Statcast had it with a home run factor of 106 — that’s 6% better than the average venue — in the past three seasons, whereas Truist’s factor was 95. Contreras is nowhere near the defensive player that either Murphy or d’Arnaud is, but he’s a homer-oriented offensive player who has a much better chance at repeating 2022’s power output (20 homers, .228 isolated power) in Milwaukee than Atlanta. The Brewers will presumably give him starting catcher treatment over Victor Caratini, and the more consistent role should offset the downgrade from the Braves’ to the Brewers’ offense.
The upshot for both of these backstops is that they both move up in the fantasy rankings, though more from the overall than the positional ranks themselves. I had Murphy eighth and Contreras 11th in points leagues before the move, and eighth and 10th after it, but both are now very clearly draft-worthy players in ESPN standard leagues, top-250 types (and Murphy is top-200 at that). In fact, the move locks in what looks like a near-set top 10 at the position, with Murphy and the Contreras brothers (Willson being my No. 9 catcher) rounding it out. About the only other catcher I could see warranting “starter in ESPNstandard” status is Cal Raleigh, whose considerable power upside makes him an intriguing option.
A few other things to consider in fantasy as a result of the deal:
Murphy’s departure paves the way for the Athletics to shift Langeliers back behind the plate regularly, which is good news for us in fantasy as he’ll begin 2023 qualified only at designated hitter (24 games there, 17 at catcher). Adapting to the considerable defensive chores of catching at the big-league level could compound Langeliers’ problems at the plate he showed late last season, but the move is at least a plus for him from an opportunity standpoint.
Kyle Muller, Esteury Ruiz and Freddy Tarnok are intriguing pickups for the Athletics, especially as the 2023 season is concerned in fantasy. Muller was ineffective in three spot starts in 2022, but he pitched decently in a brief stint in the majors in 2021 and had a 3.41 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 29.3% strikeout rate in 23 starts in Triple-A last year. He’ll get a long look for a rotation spot during spring training, and would be an appealing sleeper calling Oakland’s spacious ballpark his home.
Ruiz is one of the quickest prospects in the game, having swiped a mind-boggling 86 bases across three competitive levels in 131 games last season. He faces little competition for playing time in Oakland, and can handle all three outfield spots for a team that loves to mix and match.
Tarnok got into one game for the Braves last season after posting a 4.05 ERA in 23 starts and two relief appearances between Double- and Triple-A. He’ll be another competitor for a rotation spot, and could be a streaming option, similarly to J.P. Sears, Ken Waldichuk or Adrian Martinez.
Sean Murphy William Contreras trade analysis