New York Mets: Why Daniel Murphy's Starting Job at Second Base Is in Jeopardy

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New York Mets: Why Daniel Murphy's Starting Job at Second Base Is in Jeopardy

Imagine you're at work, and your boss walks up to you and says, "You look like you could use a day off. In fact, take two days off. Relax. Watch a couple of ballgames."

Sounds great to most of us. Sounds like the voice of doom to a Major League baseball player, especially one who's the starter at his position.

New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy has heard that voice, and it likely spells doom for his starting role.

Perhaps the most telling indication that Murphy's job is on the line came in the Mets' sweep of the Baltimore Orioles a couple of weeks back. The O's are having their best season in dog years, and the Mets wanted their front line players in the lineup.

It speaks volumes that manager Terry Collins sat Murphy for two of those three games.

It wasn't a matter of pitching matchups. Murphy and Jordany Valdespin, who spelled Murphy at second, both bat lefty. It was a matter of hitting: Valdespin has been and Murphy hasn't.

His batting woes are a bit of a mystery. Every player has slumps, but Murphy has been in free fall. Murphy's bat has sparked the Mets many times in the past, and in fact, he was a dynamo at the start of this season.

Six weeks ago, he was hitting in the neighborhood of .335. So far in June, he's batting .187, and his overall average has dipped to .269.

By contrast, Valdespin batted .300 over 10 games this month, before he was sent to Triple-A Buffalo.

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Is Jordany Valdespin the second baseman of the (near) future?

Don't let that demotion fool you. Valdespin wasn't sent down because of poor performance. It's true that he had a slow start, but his production has been rising steadily.

Valdespin is in Buffalo because the Mets needed to make room for shortstop Ruben Tejada, who's back in the lineup after missing seven weeks with a strained right quadriceps.

With Ronny Cedeño also back from injury, the Mets have an abundance of middle infielders (Justin Turner and Omar Quintanilla are also on the roster).

Manager Terry Collins wants Valdespin to get regular at-bats, and that's more likely to happen in Buffalo than Queens.

The crowd up the middle doesn't bode well for Murphy. Collins has too many alternatives available to cut Murphy any slack for much longer.

There are several other reasons to bench Murphy for a while.

He's played a full schedule of games, he's got as many if not more plate appearances than anyone on the team, but he hasn't gone yard yet this season. That's a stark contrast to previous seasons, when Murphy was always good for a dozen or so homers.

Murphy's fielding has gone south right along with his batting average. He's got nine errors so far this season. The most he's ever had in an entire season is 10.

Add all that together and it would seem that Murphy is bench-bound, if not bound for another team.The Mets were in desperate need of bullpen help even before closer Frank Francisco went on the DL this week.

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Murphy could be an attractive player for a team looking to plug an infield hole. While the emergence of Valdespin has made him seem like a grizzled old veteran by comparison, he's only 27. 

Even with his protracted slump, he's still a proven hitter. His mental lapses in the field may be more of a reaction to his troubles at the plate than a deterioration of his fielding skills.

Perhaps most important, the middle infield is the only place where the Mets are fat. If GM Sandy Alderson traded any of the other starting position players, it would just create another hole to fill in the lineup.

With Murphy's track record, it's reasonable to assume there are some hitting coaches out there who would love to help Murph climb out of his bottomless batting pit.

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