It’s still Groundhog Day for Nick Evans and Daniel Murphy

In 2008 the Mets did not have a starting left fielder. Angel Pagan drew the Opening Day assignment but he made just 20 starts that season. Pagan was one of 12 players to start in left for the Mets in 2008. By September manager Jerry Manuel had a platoon in left field featuring 22-year-old Nick Evans and 23-year-old Daniel Murphy, two players who combined for 26 games of experience in the minors at the position.

But fans really grew attached to both halves of the platoon. The righty Evans had a .905 OPS over his final 13 games while the lefty Murphy had a .313/.397/.473 line in 151 PA. Fans were excited for both players, figuring the club had just promoted two guys who would play big roles for the team in the next 10+ years.

However, Evans fell out of favor with management and did not even make the club out of Spring Training in 2009, a feat he repeated in both 2010 and this season, even though he was out of options in 2011. Meanwhile Murphy began 2009 as the team’s full-time left fielder. He started off fine, but a few high-profile fielding gaffes helped put him in a slump which eventually cost him his starting job.

Only the team’s never-ending injury parade allowed Murphy not to get buried and suffer the same fate as Evans. Finally, he discovered himself as the club’s starting first baseman, broke out of his offensive funk and had an .825 OPS over his final 266 PA of the 2009 season.

But Murphy was not out of the woods. He had the inside track to the first base job but then got hurt in Spring Training. Shortly after the 2010 season, Ike Davis established himself in the majors and Murphy was trying to convert to another position in the minors and came down with a season-ending injury.

In the 2009-2010 seasons, Evans appeared in just 50 games. He was limited to just 106 PA with the Mets and produced an uninspiring .708 OPS. His career, which seemed so bright as a 22-year old, was now at a crossroads. There was no room for him as a starter on the 2011 squad and the club brought in veteran Scott Hairston, who offered the same skill set, to compete for one of the bench spots.

As Spring Training was underway, Murphy was ostensibly in the running for the second base job but most people predicted he would be a super-sub while Evans was in a dog fight to make the Opening Day roster. With no options remaining, it appeared that this was Evans’ last chance with the Mets, as surely someone would claim him if he was placed on waivers.

It turns out that Evans did not make the Opening Day roster and was not claimed, either. He got a promotion to the majors in the third week of May but was sent down a few weeks later, again still not claimed by any of the other 29 clubs. Amazingly, this process was completed again in July. While Evans was not producing in sporadic playing time with the Mets, he had a .313/.375/.462 line at Triple-A and could play either outfield corner, first base and even fake it at third base. Now on his third stint with the Mets, Evans has a .424/.474/.697 line in his last 38 PA, with six of his 14 hits going for extra-bases.

Murphy played himself into the every day lineup for the 2011 Mets and turned out to be one of the team’s top hitters. Just when he looked like he was establishing himself as an important part in the team’s future, he suffered his second straight season-ending injury while covering the bag at second base. The Mets seemed very hesitant to use him as a second baseman before this happened and it’s extremely unlikely he will play the position in 2012, at least for the Mets.

Next year Ike Davis is likely to be the team’s starter at first base, while Lucas Duda is staking a claim on right field. That would leave no open starting jobs for either Evans or Murphy, despite what they have done here in 2011. A bench featuring Evans and Murphy would seem like a terrific thing to have. But if they end up sitting behind Jason Bay and Justin Turner, that’s a poor allocation of resources and something that would be surprising for a guy with Sandy Alderson’s reputation, especially given the team’s status as a below .500 also-ran.

Murphy’s bat is too good to be a reserve on a non-playoff club. Evans should be in a platoon role somewhere. Perhaps a Duda-Evans timeshare could work, but Duda has an .813 OPS versus LHP this year, which is not screaming out for a platoon partner.

No one was interested in Evans when they could pick him up for free, so it’s hard to imagine he has any trade value. And how much would Murphy, a guy with no established defensive position and one who’s suffered consecutive season-ending injuries, fetch in a deal?

Alderson has his work cut out for him because his available pieces apparently don’t fit and there are enough question marks to severely limit the trade value of his extra pieces. Duda and David Wright probably have the most trade value, but Wright is the face of the franchise and unless they could get a top-of-the-rotation starter, it would make no sense to trade a cost-controlled asset like Duda.

So, we likely end up with Evans and Murphy in limbo once again in 2012. It’s easy to picture both of them waking up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, turning off the alarm clock that plays “I’ve Got You Babe.” But for Evans and Murphy, 2012 would be the fourth year of running in place, trying to establish themselves as fixtures on the major league roster. It’s not what we thought would happen at all after their impressive debuts in 2008.

11 comments for “It’s still Groundhog Day for Nick Evans and Daniel Murphy

  1. Metsense
    August 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    All roads lead to Wright being traded if the Mets want to improve their starting pitching in 2012. In Murphy they have a sufficient replacement. I believe Murphy has little trade value. I don’t see the Mets trading Wright, so Murphy will have to fight it out at 2B and win the position. Evans is similar to Bay so he is not going to play left or platoon with him. Evans is a more cost effective Hairston but I’m not sure if you would get the same results from him in that role. “Alderson has his work cut out for him because his available pieces apparently don’t fit and there are enough question marks to severely limit the trade value of his extra pieces” and that is the problem going into the Winter.

    • Jonas A-K
      August 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Without a doubt, Murph’s best position is third base. He was pretty sweet there this year while filling in for Wright earlier this year and the position calls for far less thinking than first or second, which is very much to Murphy’s advantage. In that regards, it really does make trading Wright a viable option to get a top-flight starter, but that is highly unlikely. Evans, mainly due to lack of opportunity, has not shown truly consistent production at the MLB level, and likely will continue to not get those opportunities barring a trade or injury. Murphy’s advantage over Evans is his left-handed and more consistent bat, and his defensive versatility. Honestly, I think a healthy Murphy would be a big trade candidate that would interest a variety of teams looking to upgrade at third base or, to a slightly lesser extent, first base – teams which include Atlanta and Philadelphia. The former will most likely be replacing Chipper Jones next year, and the latter will just as likely be looking for an upgrade over Placido Polanco, who has not shown nearly the production (and durability) they were hoping for when playing teams not named the Mets.

      If the Mets hopefully get offers for a bona fide starter for Wright, or a top prospect for Murphy, we’ll see what they do. Gotta cross that bridge when everyone’s healthy, though.

  2. August 30, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    What if they finally turned Murphy into a super utility player, ala Joe McEwing? Spot him some time at second base, giving Ike an occasional breather at first, spend some time in the corner outfields, hell make him an emergency catcher. Just find a way to keep him in the lineup four out of five days.

    Evans, on the other hand, I don’t see as having a very high ceiling and could be traded for spare parts w/o much concern. It’d be more fair to him as well rather than leave him in the minors or rotting on a bench.

  3. LongTimeFan
    August 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I always knew Evans could hit at this level – and hit well and have very good eye at plate sometimes to his detriment. He just needed opportunity and he’s now getting it. If he continues to hit well for remainder of season, his value will continue to rise as it should. He should spend the offseason losing some lower body bulk and working with a trainer who specializes in running mechanics, increasing foot speed, quickness, and dynamic athleticism. His lack of foot speed is his achilles heel, thus improvement there will make him a better all around asset.

    Alderson will have his hands full this offseason determining who to keep, and Collins will have his hands full determining who will play where and how much. The biggest decision will be whether to trade Wright for needed starting pitching, catcher and CF in whatever combo. I hate to say it, but other than Wright’s emotional connection and longevity on this team and organization, what a good soldier he’s been, there’s little justification to keep him when there are players who can give us more of what we need – BA and OBP, clutch hitting – and are already here.

    Regarding Evans, if he doesn’t remain on Mets 40-man roster, he becomes minor league free agent. That could end of being a significant loss taken for granted. It’s good bet he’s opened Alderson’s eyes with his excellent eye and compact swing with pop. Once he learns to more consistently pounce on cookies given to him, he will have mastered the strike zone as impressive as Murphy.

    • retire31
      August 30, 2011 at 6:53 pm

      Am I the only one who thinks that they don’t really need to trade for starting pitching? I’m excited to see how a Santana-Young-Niese-Dickey-Gee rotation will turn out.

      • August 30, 2011 at 11:33 pm

        Unfortunately, probably as follows: Santana hurt, Young hurt, Niese and Dickey pretty good, Gee pretty unpredictable. Doesn’t sound like a playoff rotation to me.

  4. Aaron
    August 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Evans needs to be kept around at the very least so he can bat for Ike Davis and Lucas Duda vs. tough lefties. I know Duda has hit lefties this year, but he hasn’t got a ton of at-bats versus them, so I’m still not certain he couldn’t use a platoon buddy. Davis looked pretty bad against lefties before he got hurt this season, so as long as Evans keeps hitting, I think you could find him 250-300 ABs in 2012 as a spot starter/pinch hitter.

  5. Larry Littlefield
    August 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    I always saw Evans and Murphy as two bishops on a chessboard. Neither is a Queen like star, but they are more effective as a tandem than individually, and cover more of the board.

    Before Ike Davis emerged, I thought Evans/Murphy could produce enough as a platoon to be solid at first base. One would also become the DH when interleague play required. Given that Duda is needed in the outfield, it seems that could be kept in the hip pocket in case Ike’s situation really derails his career.

    Otherwise there are two options. The first is the hitting half of the bench, with Evans making spot starts at first and in left field, and Murphy making spot starts at 2B, LF and 3B. Why bring in someone for more money, as the Mets usually have, when you can have two guys who came up in your system playing those roles?

    The second is to trade the two of them as a tandem to be someone else’s first base platoon. I really think they can succeed, and whichever one wasn’t starting on a given day would be available to pinch hit or DH. It’s a question of what other teams would give up for these guys, and whether the other Mets coming up behind them (ie. Satin) could do the same things.

  6. tampametfan
    August 30, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Murphy isn’t an every day player. He just isn’t that good. One good partial season and Met fans think he is better than David Wright. Instead of beer goggles its Met goggles, lets you think that utility players are going to be all stars.

    • August 30, 2011 at 11:36 pm

      I kind of disagree — the guy can flat out hit. But he has no position except 3B and therefore is not a viable option on the Mets.

  7. leo
    September 1, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Murphy is the new TY Wigginton. Just not better than Wright therefore a usefull trade chip

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