The Daniel Murphy mystery

Daniel MurphyDaniel 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.

10 comments for “The Daniel Murphy mystery

  1. blastingzone
    July 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    If Murphy alone won’t net you a corner out fielder than take Colon and Murphy
    together and trade them if you have to? Everybody needs starting pitching and
    Colon is signed for next year but he’s been in the ML’s for over ten years and
    has the right to block the trade but I ‘m sure he wouldn’t block a trade if it was
    to a contender? I would rather sign Murphy but if your not going to sign him
    then trade him before you lose him for nothing like Reyes!!

    • July 4, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      In order for a veteran to block a deal, he needs 10 years in the majors and five with his current club, so Colon would not qualify for that exemption. I don’t see anything listing a no-trade clause in his contract so my guess is the Mets can trade him if they wish.

  2. Metsense
    July 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    A very thorough article Scott. I too don’t see Murphy being traded this summer because they won’t be able to obtain what they need, an impact LF bat. I especially don’t want him traded for prospects.  I disagree with your conclusion though. I think this winter that Murphy will be packaged with a pitcher as part of a deal for that LF impact bat because they have minor league depth at the position, it would give salary relief to pay for the LF, and he is the only offensive player the Mets have that could justify another team to give up an impact bat.

  3. Jerry Grote
    July 4, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    You have to frame Murphy for what he will be paid next, and how old he will be when he gets and completes that contract. As Dan has said himself, it surprises him that somebody thinks he’ll be able to play another 4 years.

    He plays 2B – a tough job to continue. He’s not young, and he’ll play the last year of his next contract at 33 or 34. He’s never given a team more than 3 WAR and over the last 1700 PA – what amounts to 3 seasons – he’s averaged 1.7 WAR per season.

    I’ll say it again – somebody’s going to get burned on Daniel Murphy. I think it will be Sandy Alderson.

    • July 4, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Since 2011, Murphy has 2,111 PA and 9.6 fWAR. In three of the last four seasons, he’s been comfortably above 2.0 fWAR and he has 2.6 fWAR this year in a little over half a season.

      While understanding the chance for 2B to fall off a cliff at any time once they pass 30, I would not be hesitant to give Murphy a 4-year contract right now based on a 10-fWAR expectation.

      • Jerry Grote
        July 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

        You use fgraph, I use bbref, but for these purposes I’ll use your reference point.

        Looking his fgraph page, its clear his production is pretty much defensive growth. You have basically a 2.3 WAR player here (714/150 games per season = 4.75, 11/4.75).

        Projecting 10 wins in a four year career that starts in his 30s, at 2B a notorious position where guys end their careers early trying to turn double plays (something Mr. Murphy remembers), and suggesting that Murphy isn’t going to regress defensively, and implicitly stating that you’ll get 600 games of productivity from him?

        OK. Hey, there are trend markers that indicate to me his career path might have changed. Maybe he is permanently better defensively. Zips and Steamer imply he’s completely different as a hitter and that’s what we empirically see.

        What I know of Daniel Murphy is that he’s always regressed to the mean, I mean each and every season there’s been a point where he’s been on a high and he’s just come back to earth.

        Love the guy. $50MM love? If he completes the season on track, I *still* think its a stretch but one I might be convinced to take. But if he ends the season even close to 2.8-3 WAR and a 770 OPS, you missed the boat on trading him.

        • July 5, 2014 at 2:12 pm

          I was probably too aggressive stating a 10-fWAR valuation.

          But if he remains healthy, I would be confident that he would surpass that mark. While some 2B do have a history of falling off quickly after age 30, we have no idea which ones will do that and if the fact that Murphy didn’t spend his whole life at the position helps or hurts him in this regard. Regardless, some sort of health discount should be built in.

          Since he currently has a 2.6 fWAR, I would be disappointed if he didn’t exceed the 2.8-3.0 fWAR you talk about. ZiPS and Steamer do in-season projections and ZiPS has him finishing with a 3.7 fWAR and Steamer has him at 3.6 and I don’t think either of those forecasts are optimistic. Both of them have him being below-average defensively going forward, despite the fact he has a positive UZR right now.

    • Chris F
      July 4, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      I agree, if we can move Murph, and it strikes me the 2 best choices would be StL and the Jays, we should. More than likely, we will get burned with the contract, and worse, up and coming players that will beat him out for starting at 2B.

  4. norme
    July 4, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Sean, this was a very good post. You’ve given a clear-eyed picture of the dilemma Alderson faces. Unlike too many who conjure trades that are totally one-sided, you’ve presented a very perceptive picture of the trade market. You have to trade value to get value and it’s often not easy to do.

    • Patrick Albanesius
      July 7, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Agree with Norme. Very well-thought article. Murphy means everything to the Mets right now, but they are a losing team right now. Losing Murphy would be rough, but package him with a pitcher and an outfielder and maybe we can get the LF we are looking for. Sadly, this team needs to start looking toward next year.

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