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.