The Mariners added some catching depth and swapped out backup catchers Friday as general manager Jerry Dipoto completed a small trade to acquire catcher Tom Murphy from the San Francisco Giants.
In exchange, the Mariners sent minor league pitcher Jesus Ozoria to San Francisco.
Murphy was in baseball limbo. He was designated for assignment by the Giants just before opening day. The Mariners didn’t want to play the waivers game and lose out on a claim, so they made a deal to ensure they acquired him.
The lack of minor league options was a reason why Murphy, 28, bounced around this spring. He started spring training with the Rockies, the team he had been with his entire career. Colorado selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft, and he played in 81 big-league games over the past four seasons. But when the Rockies decided to go with Tony Wolters as their backup to Chris Iannetta, Murphy was designated for assignment. Murphy was quickly claimed off waivers by the Giants on March 25 but was designated again three days later. While he hails from upstate New York, Murphy had Phoenix as his home base with his family during this process.
“I spent a few days in limbo there,” he said. “Then I spent a few days in San Fran just kind of being there and not really knowing what was going on and then back again to limbo. And here I am today.”
Because Murphy is out of options, the Mariners had to add him to their open spot on the 40-man roster and place him on the 25-man active roster. That meant backup catcher David Freitas was optioned to Class AAA Tacoma.
Murphy was sitting at his place in Phoenix with his wife and watching re-runs of The Office late Thursday evening when he got the call that he’d been traded to Seattle.
“It’s re-assuring to myself and my career,” he said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity and thankful for these guys to stick their neck out and bring in a catcher at the start of a season that doesn’t know about anything about anyone. Having that faith in me goes a long ways.”
He arrived at T-Mobile Park on Friday afternoon, met with manager Scott Servais and had his former teammate Zac Rosscup show him around. He met with Servais and talked with Saturday’s scheduled starting pitcher Mike Leake.
“I don’t know a ton about him other than where he came from,” Servais said. “He’s got some major league experience. He struggled to play a lot and get much going, but our scouts had good reports on him and felt it was an area that we could add some depth organizationally.”
Servais said that the right-handed hitting Murphy could start on Saturday night with the Red Sox pitching lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. Since Murphy hasn’t caught any of the Mariners’ pitchers, he plans to sit with Leake during Friday night’s game to go over what they want to do.
“I introduced myself to him earlier,” Murphy said. “I told him that hopefully we can get together during the game, so I can pick his brain and he can pick mine and we can go from there.”
He will have to get to know all of the pitchers as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy. He’ll have to catch bullpens and flat-ground sessions with lots of conversations in between. But he’ll try to expedite the process.
“I will watch a lot of video,” he said. “We have a lot of video on these guys, and I can look at what they do and what they are working on and what works well for them.”
Murphy isn’t considered to be an elite defensive catcher. He’s known for his ability at the plate and his power potential. He was once a touted prospect because of his gaudy minor league numbers, including a 2016 season when he hit .327 with a 1.008 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), 26 doubles, 19 homers and 59 RBI in hitter-friendly Albuquerque.
The Mariners could play the roster game with Murphy. If they decide to make a switch back to Freitas in the coming weeks, they could designate Murphy and hope he clears waivers so they can outright him to Tacoma.
Ozoria, 20, made his professional debut with the Dominican Summer League Mariners in 2017 after being signed as a free agent. He posted an 0-2 record with 6.75 ERA in five starts and on relief appearance. He also played last season for the DSL Mariners, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.19 ERA and two saves in five starts and nine relief appearances.