Daniel Murphy has become a hot topic of discussion recently. Murphy is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He is part of the heart and soul of the Mets. He also makes bonehead mistakes when he doesn’t get the chance to think about his actions before he does them. Basically, Murphy is an interesting everyday player who is one year away from free agency and has wrung every bit of talent out of his 6’1”, 215 pound frame.
On top of all of that, the Mets made it clear last winter that they were willing to trade Murphy and actively shopped him at the Winter Meetings. Also, who can forget Sandy Alderson’s recent unwillingness to commit to the idea of an extension for Murphy, or even state that Murphy wouldn’t be traded.
When added to the fact that the Mets are rapidly falling away from any type of contention, it begs the question; what do the Mets do next with Murphy?
It’s a fairly complicated answer. Many have stated that the Mets should extend Murphy as soon as possible. All of us in support of an extension point to the strong offensive production from Murphy, the down and dirty style and the fact that he works as hard as anyone to improve his skill set. Some say it’s time to trade Murphy. Those bring up many of the same points, but note his age (turning 30 at the beginning of next season) and his free agency status after next year, make his value as high as it can be at this time.
Both points are valid on their face, but there remain serious issues with the concept of trading Murphy.
To start with, what is his value? To the Mets, Murphy is extremely valuable. He’s a consistent bat, a hard worker, an excellent clubhouse presence and solidifies a position on a team that has far too many question marks at other positions. But would Murphy mean all of that to another team? Most likely he wouldn’t. The reality is that Murphy is barely competent in the field and doesn’t hit for a whole lot of power. There are also the aforementioned ridiculous plays that Murphy finds himself all too regularly involved in. Murphy is not a game changing player for another team. Sure, Murphy could fill a void in a playoff team that is lacking a second baseman, but he’s not the type of player that will bring a team a World Series victory. So, when it comes to value, what can the Mets really expect out of Murphy? If Chase Utley becomes available prior to the trade deadline (as is rumored), then a game changing bat at second base will be on the market and those type of players bring back top line prospects. Remember that Carlos Beltran, a borderline hall of famer, netted the Mets Zach Wheeler, one of the Giants top pitching prospects. R.A. Dickey, the reigning Cy Young award winner, netted Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud and a flyer on Wuilmer Becerra. Two top quality talents netted two top 10 pitching prospects, the best catching prospect in baseball and an intriguing foreign signing. Murphy will not bring back that kind of value.
Beyond that, there is a limited market for Murphy when one looks at the Mets needs. The Mets sorely need a corner outfield who can bat in the middle of the order. Their top outfield prospect, Brandon Nimmo, will probably not sniff the majors until next year, at the earliest, and couldn’t be counted on to start for the club on a regular basis until 2016 at the earliest. He also profiles, right now, as a top of the order hitter with some power, as opposed to a middle of the order hitter. Cesar Puello has been a massive disappointment at Triple-A. Michael Conforto, the Mets first round pick in 2014, might be that type of player, but he hasn’t signed yet, has yet to play a single game of minor league baseball and most likely can’t be counted on until 2016 or 2017, if he develops at all. Beyond that, the Mets are full of players that seem to be organizational filler, Quadruple-A players or have a ceiling as a back-up outfielder.
Basically, any trade involving Murphy needs to bring back a corner outfield prospect that can be counted on next year. If not, the Mets are going to have to dig into the free agency barrel this offseason, which they might not be willing to do considering that shortstop might have to be a priority in that area.
So, when looked at it from that point of view, the teams that really need Murphy don’t offer that kind of player. The Giants and Blue Jays have been mentioned as needing a second baseman and they do. Both are in the playoff hunt and both have replacement level players, or worse, manning second base. However, neither has any outfielder available that meets the Mets needs.
The Giants have Gary Brown at Triple-A, but Brown is a fleet footed centerfielder who is more a leadoff hitter than a middle of the order hitter. He also hasn’t hit all that well at Triple-A, in the PCL, posting a 660 OPS last year and only improving that by 43 points so far this year, while striking out a lot (approximately one out of every four at bat’s) and not walking at all (approximately once out of every 18 plate appearances). Basically the anti-Mets approach. It’s plausible that Brown’s acquisition could allow Curtis Granderson to bring his power back into the middle of the order, but Granderson has been most effective this year, and throughout his career, when not hitting fourth or fifth in the order, the spot the Mets most need to fill. Brown also isn’t a corner outfielder as his arm is only average, which would mean that Juan Lagares would have to move to rightfield and Granderson to left due to Lagares’ arm strength. Lagares doesn’t bring power as a corner outfielder either and Brown, based on his minor league numbers, is no sure thing out of the leadoff spot. This would be a tremendous defensive outfield, but the Mets can live what they have now in that respect. What they need is hitting and Brown might not help with that.
The Blue Jays are in the same situation regarding what they can offer the Mets. The only player that offers outfield power that could be remotely available is Colby Rasmus, but Rasmus can’t hit lefties and will be a free agent in 2015. Anthony Gose has been a highly thought of center field prospect for the Blue Jays and has played in the major leagues, unlike Brown. But Gose hasn’t exactly impressed with his hitting in the major leagues. In 467 plate appearances, he’s posted a 652 OPS and a 307 OBP while striking out 127 times. He has stolen 24 bases and notched nine triples in that span, showing some of his talent, but he’s only hit three home runs, showing his lack of power and thus a need for better plate discipline to make up for that deficiency. Again, this forces Lagares to move as Gose does not have elite arm strength and also doesn’t meet the power needs the Mets have.
Both the Giants and the Blue Jays have strong pitching prospects, but so do the Mets and do we really want to see another trade where the primary piece is some pitching prospect or middle infielder? The Dodgers have outfielders to spare, but anyone that thinks a Murphy deal will net Joc Pederson is dreaming. The latest is that the Dodgers don’t want to trade Pederson as they would rather move big priced outfielders Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier. They also don’t really need Murphy as Dee Gordon is having a tremendous year and the combination of Justin Turner and Juan Uribe are holding their own at third base. On top of that, there is no way the Mets are taking on Kemp or Ethier’s contracts, so the Dodgers can be struck from the list. The Yankees could use a second baseman and are still in the hunt in the American League East, but the Mets won’t trade a player like Murphy to the Yankees, so that’s out. Also, the Yankees don’t exactly have an outfielder that matches the Mets needs. Brett Gardner would be nice, but the Yankees won’t trade one of their best hitters and Gardner again doesn’t bring the power the Mets need. Alfonso Soriano could probably be had, but his big contract, decreasing power and terrible outfield play make him totally unpalatable.
The Rockies have extra outfielders, but they are in the same position as the Mets and don’t need a second baseman. Maybe a trade built around Dillon Gee could net an outfielder, but again, the Rockies are in more of a seller’s mode than buyers, so it’s more conceivable that they will deal an outfielder for multiple prospects, which doesn’t appear to be what Sandy Alderson and company wants to do at this point. The A’s also have extra outfielders, but they are the best team in baseball right now and buying a player like Murphy isn’t Billy Beane’s style. The Rangers could trade Alex Rios, but they are also in prospect mode, which again doesn’t help the Mets. The White Sox could move an outfielder, but unless it’s Dayan Viciedo, the Mets shouldn’t listen. Again though, the White Sox aren’t looking for a veteran like Murphy, so any deal for Viciedo would have to be at the expense of prospects, like Wilmer Flores and a pitcher.
Basically, the Mets have very limited options for Murphy. Would it be worth it? It’s very hard to tell. Replacing Murphy at second base isn’t the issue. Dealing Murphy could give Flores the time he needs to play regularly in the major leagues and show the bat that all of the scouts have raved about for so long. It could also get Eric Young Jr. into the lineup in a position where his total lack of power isn’t as egregious. Dilson Herrera has decimated the baseball in the minor leagues this year and could conceivably impact the Mets as a second baseman during the 2015 season. The problem with all of that would be that if the Mets are committing to an outfield of Gose or Brown, Granderson and Lagares, they better get more punch out of second base. Herrera appears to be more of a top of the order hitter than a middle of the order hitter, while Flores has that ability, but has yet to show that he is able to hit major league pitching.
So, what do the Mets do? It’s really a mystery. It’s understandable if they are reticent to pull the trigger on an extension. For all that he means for the Mets, he is limited in what he can do in certain aspects of his game (fielding, power and consistency in regards to not making mistakes in the field and on the base paths) and he will be turning 30 next year. When one looks at Herrera’s progress in the minors and Flores continued presence on top prospects lists without a definitive position with the Mets, it does support the teams reluctance to open up their wallets for Murphy. On the other hand, the trade market doesn’t really seem to meet the Mets needs at this point and Murphy’s value will never be higher than it is right now, when he’s leading the league in hits, hitting over 300 and producing a WAR of 2.2 already with barely a half a season past and a year and a half of team control still to come. This offseason, Murphy will be in his last year of arbitration, meaning he will be making significantly more money and will be a pending free agent after next year, significantly lowering his trade value.
It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks in regards to Murphy. The best guess is that Murphy won’t be traded, but that certainty lessens and lessens as the Mets lose more games. In the end, considering what’s out there via trade, a four year extension is probably the best thing for the Mets to do and it should be done this offseason, to buy out his last year of arbitration and not allow him to hit the open market. Will the Mets do that? It remains to be seen, but it’s the right thing to do.