Let's be rational. Though there's technically a non-zero chance of Kyler Murray jumping ship from professional football to professional baseball, it's so close to zero that it's arguably not worth taking seriously.
Yet now than ever before, the irrational baseball fan still has reason to hope.
It's been four years since the Oakland Athletics drafted Murray, then a toolsy outfielder for the Oklahoma Sooners, with the No. 9 pick in the 2018 draft. He immediately became one of the top prospects in the team's system, with Baseball America writing that he projected to thrive on "plus power, plus speed and a plus glove."
However, 2018 was also the same year that Murray won the Heisman Trophy as Oklahoma's starting quarterback. That begat his full-time commitment to football, which begat the Arizona Cardinals drafting him first overall in 2019. In three seasons since then, he's milked both his arm and his legs for yards and touchdowns to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year and make two Pro Bowls.
But as good as it's been for both sides until now, the relationship between Murray and the Cardinals now seems like the coldest thing under the Arizona sun. To wit, all mentions of the latter have been scrubbed from the former's Instagram:
The Athletic @TheAthletic
Arizona QB Kyler Murray has unfollowed the team & removed all Cardinals-related content from his Instagram.<br><br>The only recent content was a picture of himself at the Pro Bowl and a story re-share of a Mike Evans post that said "always wanted to catch a pass from the Texas legend." <a href="https://t.co/ltcQTvJcPA">pic.twitter.com/ltcQTvJcPA</a>
You don't go doing something like this on accident, so Murray the football player is clearly dissatisfied about something.
Meanwhile, the A's still hold the rights to Murray the baseball player. And if you're wondering how he would look if he were to trade his Cardinal red for Oakland's green and gold, well, here you go:
The rational baseball fan sees this for what it is: a tease. Even if this was the best of times in the baseball world, it wouldn't be realistic to expect the 24-year-old Murray to throw away the pigskin and reach for the cowhide. And with MLB's lockout showing no signs of ending soon, these are certainly not the best of times in baseball.
"That may be," the irrational fan says. "Yet it could still happen. In fact, it should. Nay, it must."
Splitsville for Murray and the Cardinals?
Mind you, the irrational fan couldn't be so bold in their thinking if there wasn't so much uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals and Murray.
As ESPN's Josh Weinfuss wrote in January, the team itself could be at a crossroads with head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Though the team has undeniably improved in his three years on the sidelines, the 2021 Cardinals carved out their own niche among Kingsbury's teams that have started strong only to fade.
And for his part, Murray wasn't blameless in this.
He missed three games in November with a sprained ankle and was then largely ineffective in Arizona's last five regular-season contests. Kingsbury expected his quarterback to rebound with the "game of his life" against the Los Angeles Rams in his playoff debut. Instead, he had six yards rushing, 137 yards passing, no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 34-11 loss.
In so doing, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk argued that Murray undercut his chances for a contract extension worthy of, say, Josh Allen's $258 million deal with the Buffalo Bills. Further, Jess Root of USA Today noted that the Cardinals are looking at a salary cap crunch.
Rather than go all in on Murray—and take a great deal on faith in the process—the Cardinals could simply keep him on his current contract for 2022. Maybe then they would extend him. Or, they could simply trigger his fifth-year option for 2023.
Judging from Murray's Instagram stunt, however, he would just as soon be paid now. That's understandable even sans context, but there is the possibility that it's a now-or-never calculus.
Between his relatively diminutive 5'10", 207-pound frame, his recent ankle injury and overall decline of his ground game in 2021, it's fair to wonder if Murray is already be past his peak as a dual-threat quarterback. Instead of risking it all on evolving as a pocket passer, he perhaps should be looking to cash in now.
To this end, one wonders if mingling with other stars at last weekend's Pro Bowl inspired clandestine talk of a possible trade. If not that, Murray's social-media scrub is surely meant to defibrillate some life into extension talks.
Either way, reaching for still more leverage by threatening to walk away to pursue a career in baseball is the next logical step. And whereas the rational baseball fan might see it as such, the irrational fan wouldn't deem it an empty threat.
Why Baseball? Why Now?
"Well, why not baseball?" the irrational fan says. "And why not now?"
If nothing else, Murray's love for the game seems intact. Along with football and Esports, he still considers baseball one of his three athletic specialties. And as he told Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com in June 2021, he hasn't given up hope of playing baseball again.
"I know everybody around [the organization] probably feels different about it," he said. "But me personally, I played the game my whole life. If I ever had the opportunity, for sure, I would definitely go for it."
After experiencing growing pains at the collegiate level and in the Cape Cod League in 2017, it was as a redshirt sophomore for the Sooners in 2018 that Murray teased what kind of baseball player he could be. In 51 games, he slashed an impressive .296/.398/.556 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases.
This was even though Murray might not have been giving it his all on the diamond. According to Baseball America, this was not out of laziness but because he was saving some of himself for football "by not cutting loose on throws or on the bases."
Though this made it difficult to scout Murray's present abilities, it did allow for big dreams about his future as a ballplayer. Of the comps that were thrown around, the one comparing him to a Hall of Famer and general baseball legend was justifiably caught his attention.
“The big one is Rickey Henderson,” Murray said in June 2018, shortly after the draft and his signing of a $4.6 million bonus.
Granted, Murray is bound to have rough edges after not playing any competitive baseball over the last four years. On the plus side, he's come into his physical prime. Though he's officially only 12 pounds heavier than the 195-pounder whom the A's drafted in 2018, that's likely a conservative estimate.
So if Murray were indeed to take up a bat and glove again, it could be that his power and speed would sufficiently mask any deficiencies he might have with, say, his pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline. If not the next Henderson, he might at least be a Trea Turner or Bo Bichette.
This is to say that Murray wouldn't necessarily have to languish for years in the minor leagues if he were to leave the gridiron behind. Particularly not, that is, if two proposals make it into baseball's next collective bargaining agreement.
Through the promise of draft picks, one would incentivize teams to more quickly promote their best young players to the majors. Through cash bonuses, another would allow young players to earn substantially more than the league minimum during their pre-arbitation years.
Best-case scenario? Murray jumps to baseball, spends his age-24 season in the minors and is then on Oakland's Opening Day roster for his age-25 season in 2023. He'd make good money for six years, and then be in a position to make a fortune in free agency after his age-30 season in 2028.
Heck, a big payday might even come before then. The A's aren't known for handing out big-money extensions, but that could change if they move into the state-of-the-art ballpark they're trying to build at Howard Terminal in Oakland. Though far from a done deal, it could hypothetically be built and opened within the decade.
What kind of money are we talking about? Well, it's baseball. So, big money. Potentially more than Murray can make in the NFL.
That $258 million deal that Allen signed with Buffalo? Not bad, but it only contained $150 million in guaranteed money. That's less than Javier Baez just got from the Detroit Tigers, and he's not even a superstar.
It's not even out of the question that Murray could top the $503 million superdeal that Patrick Mahomes signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. That's bigger than any individual MLB contract, but roughly equal to what Mike Trout's career earnings will be through 2030.
"So, come on in, Kyler," the irrational baseball fan says. "The water's fine."
Of Course, It's Not Going to Happen
The rational baseball fan is right, though.
It's nice to fantasize and all, but it doesn't move the needle on the realism of Murray quitting football so he can take up baseball again. That's regardless of whether he actually threatens to do so—which, to be clear, is strictly a hypothetical as of this writing.
Sure, maybe he could still find stardom and its accompanying riches in baseball. But the list of things that would have to go right in order for that to happen is not short. It's certainly far longer than what he has to do to achieve his on-field and financial goals in the NFL, which pretty much consists of just one item: more of the same, please.
But if you're a baseball fan—rational or irrational, it doesn't matter—go ahead and have this fantasy anyway.
It is, after all, harmless fun and just plain something to think about in positive terms. That makes it unlike anything actually in the baseball world right now. As long as the lockout persists, it's a frozen wasteland wherein the denizens occupy most of their time arguing about money. The specter of fans being permanently disillusioned by it all is very much there, but it might as well be the doomsday comet from Don't Look Up.
In other words, it's a time for baseball fans to take what they can get. And right now, there isn't a better game in town than The Curious Case of Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.