Daniel Murphy's Role on the 2011 New York Mets
Daniel Murphy is in a state of flux within the Mets organization. Murphy was once a man poised to be the starting first baseman with the departure of Carlos Delgado and solid 2008 and 2009 season, which averaged out as 11 home runs, 64 runs batted in, a .275 batting average and a .331 on-base percentage over 162 games.
When a leg injury ended his 2010 season, he lost the starting first baseman job to Ike Davis. Murphy will not be able get his job back at first base over Davis, and thus must switch positions to be able to play for the Mets. The only question is what position will Murphy be able to play, and what will happen to him if he can't?
The biggest question for the Mets in 2011 besides the starting rotation was who would play second base. Right now the Mets feature Luis Castillo, Ruben Tejada, Chin-Lung Hu, Brad Emaus, Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy. While there are seven opting for second base this year, Ruben Tejada will start at Triple-A in 2011 and likely play there all year. Sandy Alderson believes he was rushed to the majors and therefore has much to gain with another year in the minors. The other six vying for second base all have a legitimate shot.
As much as it pains me to say it, Luis Castillo could win the second baseman job. Luis had a horrible season last year, playing only 86 games while batting .236 and hitting no home runs with 17 RBI. He also has been very shaky at second base the past few years, and the moment that signifies this was the dropped pop-up against the Yankees that turned an 8-7 win into a 9-8 loss.
He is the only player in this lot who has actually played a full season at second base and is a well-seasoned veteran, though. He will probably play a limited role to let some of the rookies/younger players a chance at the big leagues.
Chin-Lung Hu is primarily a SS who was continuously ranked highly in the minors but never saw his skills translate to the majors. Hu is a long shot at winning the second baseman job and will most likely play the Alex Cora role for the Mets this season.
Justin Turner is a 26 year old who batted .336 with the Orioles and Mets (in AAA) last year with 12 home runs and 46 runs batted in. Turner is a long shot to win second base but will still play for it in spring training this year.
Brad Emaus is the most interesting player trying for the second base job. Emaus was claimed off the Blue Jays via the rule 5 draft. Emaus hit .290 with 15 home runs and 75 runs batted in while touting an excellent .397 on-base percentage between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010. Emaus could be a very good option at 2B with his mix of speed (13-of-15 SB) and 24 home runs. His defense is solid, and a good spring training could very well gain him the starting job.
Daniel Murphy is the last Met in the running for second base. Murphy has had a couple of solid seasons at the plate and would already be an above average hitter as a second baseman. The only problem is that Murphy must return from a season-ending injury and his lack of success in the past at second base. Murphy is known as a well below-average defender, and during his dabble at second base, he had five errors in only 17 games and 50 errors in 190 games at his natural position of third base.
I think it would be a long shot for Murphy to win the job at second base. He can hit decently, but his offensive numbers by no means would be able to make up for his defense. Emaus will probably split time with Castillo in the majors, due to his upside, or if he is sent to the minors, he will go back to the Blue Jays.
When healthy, the Mets field an outfield of Jason Bay (LF), Carlos Beltran (CF/RF) and Angel Pagan (CF/RF). The only way that Murphy would find playing time in the OF is due to another injury in the corner spots. The only problem is that the Mets have many years tied up in Bay at LF, and the only way he would be able to get a roster spot in the future would be at RF with the departure of Beltran.
Murphy is, however, weak at the outfield position and probably won't bring enough offensive power to be a corner outfield. This is coupled with the fact that Murphy will eventually have to face off against Fernando Martinez (if he ever can stay healthy long enough to play) and Lucas Duda, who had a very rocky first year in the majors but was amazing in the minors.
Murphy has no chance of being a utility player for the Mets. He would be at best a poor man's Ty Wigginton, and who wants to have a poor man's Ty Wigginton? He has far too little pop, can only field one position well (first base) and is below average at second, third and the outfield in general.
Unless Murphy can make considerable strides in fielding or revert back to his hitting performance in 2008, where he had an on base percentage at .397, I don't see a role for Murphy on the Mets.
Minor Leagues and Beyond
Moving Daniel Murphy to the minor leagues (most likely AA because Tejada will be AAA) would make the most sense and is the most likely for the Mets, because it would give Murphy more time to rehab his injury and allow him to work on fielding. If he can develop into a capable second baseman, he would easily win the job in 2012.
This would also give the Mets more time to develop Ruben Tejada at second base. Tejada can already play second well and is great at turning the double play, but must become better at making contact and hitting line drives to make himself an offensive threat.
The Mets would be in much better shape in the future if both Murphy and Tejada could compete at second base along with Brad Emaus.
If Murphy can't become the player the Mets saw in 2008 and doesn't improve his overall playing ability, it wouldn't surprise me if he was traded. Murphy is a solid player who would start or be a role player for some weaker clubs, and could be used to gain more prospects in the farm system. He could also be a package deal with Beltran or Castillo this season for some players who would greatly help the Mets in the future.