Friend of the Mets Adam Rubin recently reported for ESPN New York that Daniel Murphy will be playing a lot of second base this offseason. In fact, Mr. Rubin writes that according to Chip Hale, Murph apparently already is hard at work focusing on the position: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/10708/10708.
What does this mean for 2011? It could mean a lot.
Luis Castillo was never as bad as his detractors claimed—until 2010. The always shaky wheels have clearly fallen off of the Castillo chassis, and his sulking and feeling of entitlement represented just one of many poor attitudes exhibited by the train wreck also known as the 2010 Mets. Slappy McSingleton’s resurgence and good numbers in 2009, when combined with his rather generous contract’s two remaining years, made it quite understandable to see him emerge as the regular keystone denizen as 2009 began.
However, the little magic left in Castillo’s game has clearly disappeared. Every facet of his offensive game declined precipitously this year, and his range in the field could be measured in inches. As his prohibitive contract now has just one year remaining and as he has made it clear that he does not gracefully accept his position as a bench player, the time has come—without doubt—for this player to be gone from the friendly confines of Queens. Perhaps a deal can be worked out, but regardless, the Mets must eat some of his contract or all of it if no takers emerge in the trade market.
Ruben Tejada clearly has skills. He is a hard-nosed, hustling youngster with an excellent glove, some speed and fine instincts. A natural shortstop who played 90% of his minor league games there, he has adjusted to a relatively new position at the highest level with calm maturity. However, he will be just 21 next spring, and while his offense showed across-the-board improvement from ages 18 to 19 as he moved from A ball to AA, his performance in Buffalo earlier this year and in the majors has shown his offense to be at least a year or more away from being even acceptable. Might Tejada be a player who could be a valuable middle-infield bench player, who could give great defense as a late-inning replacement at both second and short, with speed, who can also pinch run, who could learn to hit on-the-job with intensive offensive training from whoever HoJo’s replacement is? Very possibly. But the best move for this youngster might just be a year to play short in Buffalo, as he could be 2012’s Met SS if Jose is traded or walks after next year.
What to do? As Mr. Rubin suggests, the answer might very well be developing this winter.
Daniel Murphy’s following did shrink after his less-than-spectacular performance in 2010. In fine Met tradition (Todd Hundley in left? Mike Piazza at first? Jose Reyes at second?) Murph, a third baseman during his minor league career, was basically thrown to the wolves in LF and then at 1B. He certainly never complained, and like most of the other kids we have seen come from the minors the last couple of years, Murph always wanted to play and never stopped hustling. As a natural infielder, the transition to second should be much easier than the moves to left or first. Preliminary reports from the AFL a year ago were positive, and Murph was dedicating himself to the position last spring before having his season ended by a vicious slide early in the year.
Well, like the orange and blue phoenix that he is, Murph is rising once again.
The Mets are entering a transitional year. Many signs point to the team again declining to raise payroll, and either maintaining 2010’s level or trying to shrink it again. With the trio of albatrosses named Beltran, Perez, and Castillo, as well as the mammoth salaries of Johan and Bay, and the seeming ennui shared by many Mets this year, 2011 will be a year to feature enthusiastic youngsters and look for value. Daniel Murphy fits the bill across the board.
Murph’s offensive numbers in 2009 were far from spectacular, but there are positives to be found. He did exhibit some power with 38 2B and 12 HR, and he finished the season well, having fine months in August and September aside from OBP. And while offense is of course welcomed anywhere—especially from this Met crew—Murph’s 2009 numbers would indeed be far more acceptable were they to come from his batting seventh or eighth and playing second base rather than playing LF or 1B and hitting in a higher slot.
While one can never truly project what a young player will become, Murph did have just 95 games at AA and one at AAA before becoming a major league starter. While he will be 26 next spring, he did lose an entire year to injury. Many players have evolved far beyond what their early minor and major league results first showed. To cite one lefty-hitting second baseman we all know and love, Chase Utley’s minor league progress and first two partial major league seasons are eerily similar to Murphy’s. Will Murph become the player that Utley is? Maybe not. But the point is, not every successful player dominates the minors or the majors instantly. Some players who might not be the fastest or have the most impressive natural gifts often exceed their early projections with hard work and determination.
Finally, monetary considerations must come into play, and somewhat prominently, for a team with the Mets’ already-committed salaries for 2010; especially when one considers that payroll and attendance both significantly shrunk in 2010.
Daniel Murphy is an in-house, homegrown solution for second base. He might not instantly produce as Luis Castillo did for much of his career, or handle the glove as well as Ruben Tejada. But he will work hard and hustle, and perhaps most importantly, he will clearly listen to instruction and eagerly attempt to better himself. The money saved on him over, say, an Orlando Hudson for a year, can be used elsewhere on pitching, as at least another starter and perhaps several bullpen arms will be needed.
The feeling here is that 2011, regardless of who takes the place of Omar and/or Jerry, will be a transition year. A year for the team to give extended/continued trials to Thole, Ike, and Niese at least, and very possibly to Parnell, Mejia, Gee, and one or more of FMart/Duda/Nieuwenhuis/Evans as well. Daniel Murphy deserves to be in this group.
We have a chance to build a largely homegrown team in 2011. And considering the results of 2009-2010, which have featured high-priced underachievement, endless disabled list stays, and countless incidents of veteran players bristling at the thought of change, it is high time for a year of stepping back from Omar’s annual high-priced big-game hunt and seeing exactly what we have in our crop of kids.
Daniel Murphy hustles, is young, is inexpensive, and has shown an open-minded willingness to move all over the place for the team. It is still September and he is already in Florida working on second base for 2011. It says here that Daniel Murphy, barring some major unforeseen move, should be given every chance to play 2B for your 2011 New York Mets.