During this past offseason, Robinson Cano was the big free agent name on the market. Cano, for several years now, has been known as Major League Baseball’s premier second baseman and has played at nearly MVP levels for the majority of that time period, which resulted in the Seattle Mariners signing Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract this past offseason. Currently, there are 12 second baseman in baseball with an OPS of .735 or better, of which Chase Utley, possibly the second best second baseman, to Cano over these past several years, leads with a .973 OPS. The player currently in second place has an OPS of .823, while the player in 11th place has an OPS of .739. Guess which one isn’t Cano.
That’s right. Our own Daniel Murphy is currently the second best offensive second baseman in baseball. His season so far is the best of his career and is currently far superior to Cano’s, for over $18 million less. Murphy has one more year of arbitration and is set to become a free agent in 2016. He will turn 30 at the beginning of next season and is currently in his prime. It’s time for the Mets to extend Murphy’s contract through arbitration and his first few free agent seasons.
The fact that Murphy is having an exceptional year at his position is not even remotely the only reason an extension needs to happen. This season is just the next step in what has been a career long progression for the Mets second baseman.
Murphy debuted in 2008, with a 49-game audition. Over 151 plate appearances, Murphy hit .313 with an .871 OPS playing left field. That was the first sign that the Mets had a special player in Murphy as he was still extremely successful with the bat despite being a career infielder that was adjusting to playing the outfield. In 2009, Murphy had the dreaded sophomore slump as his average slipped to .266 and his OPS dropped to .741 while he continued to play left field and spent over 100 games at first base, another new position for him. Then, while converting to second base in spring training of 2010, Murphy injured his knee, causing him to miss the entirety of the subsequent season.
Did any of these issues, position changes, injuries and slumps deter Murphy? Not in the least as, when he came back in 2011, he not only played three different positions (first base, second base and third base when David Wright was injured), but he also came out of the gates strong, swatting the baseball to a .320 average and an .809 OPS before another knee injury occurred while Murphy was trying to turn a double play. That magical offensive season ended at 109 games and 423 plate appearances.
Despite two injuries and surgeries that were direct results of his move to second base, Murphy came back strong in 2012, starting 138 games at second and posting a .291 average with a .735 OPS. With is position finally stabilized, Murphy had the best offensive season of his career in 2013. He played in 161 of 162 games, 150 of those at second base and finished the year with career highs in runs scored, hits, home runs and runs batted in. He also added the stolen base to his repertoire, stealing 23 bases in 26 attempts, compared to 19 steals in 30 attempts from 2008 to 2013.
Basically, Murphy has shown several things that make him essential to this team moving forward. His work ethic is unquestioned, as he’s gotten better every season. First he got his batting average up. Then his power returned. After that, he added speed and this year, it looks like he’s putting it all together into a nice offensive package that, at this rate, will lead him to career highs in runs scored, hits, doubles, stolen bases, walks and OPS (in a full season, not including the 49 game run in 2008). He’s shown the ability to be flexible in adjusting to the needs of the team and has shown perseverance in recovering from injury. Basically he works hard, is tough and doesn’t let the outside world affect his game.
He’s also turned himself into a solid fielding second baseman. In his last three years as the clubs primary second baseman, Murphy has shown improvement in his range and fielding percentage, to the point that, this year, Murphy is arguably a slightly above average second baseman in the field so far. His fielding percentage is slightly below league average (.978 to .980) and range is slightly above average (4.74 per game versus 4.6 per game). Those statistics are career highs and he’s gotten better at the double play. Murphy has currently helped turn 30 double plays in 348.2 innings this year, approximately one every 10.2 innings. Over the past two seasons, Murphy helped turn a double play approximately every 16 innings and this season’s pitching staff is notorious for their fly ball production.
Murphy is also unquestionably a leader on this team. He’s vocal in the clubhouse and in the dugout, but plays with respect and toughness in the field. Wright is the team’s star, but Murphy is the Mets heart.
Baseball teams are made up of several different types of players and a team needs the right mix. Too many players that have exceptional talent and no work ethic doesn’t lead to victories, just like a team of players that are low on talent, but high on working hard also doesn’t result in a championship. Murphy falls into that category, a guy who has literally gotten any possible ounce of ability out of his frame with hard work and perseverance, which the Mets need moving forward. Murphy’s gritty and tough example is one that other players will follow, especially next to a similar, if more physically talented personality and player in Wright.
The Mets don’t need to give Murphy Cano or Wright money. They probably only need to give him a four or five year extension, to take him through his last arbitration year and into his early free agency. Four sounds good, as it gives the Mets stability at the position over the next several years, takes Murphy through most of his prime and allows Murphy to go seek that last decent contract to run him through his twilight years as a baseball player. That kind of an extension also gives the Mets best second base prospect, Dilson Herrera, the chance to develop or lets the team know that they need to look at that position if Herrera doesn’t show he can be a major league player.
In the end, Murphy isn’t Mr. Met, like Wright, but he is the type of player you want standing next to a perennial All Star like Wright. No one would ever build a team around Murphy, but most every team would jump at the opportunity to have him hit second in the lineup and provide clubhouse leadership when he’s not putting it all out on the field.
The Mets need to do this. There is way too much speculation about money and direction for this team. Giving Murphy what he has earned would show that quality on the field and a desire for a championship, not money, is what really guides the Mets.