Recently, Terry Collins has surprised everyone by naming Luis Hernandez his starting second baseman. Hernandez is a young switch-hitter who has nice ability at the plate, but has had limited time in the major leagues.
Apparently, this is something that helped Hernandez's case, as Luis Castillo and Daniel Murphy have struggled defensively throughout spring training, and Brad Emaus has not hit particularly well. Justin Turner, another candidate, needs more seasoning in the minor leagues. With Chin-Lung Hu projected to be the all glove-no bat reserve middle infielder (at least for the beginning of the season), this opened the door for Hernandez, who is batting over .400 in spring training.
Murphy made a strong case to be named the starting second baseman, but if Hernandez indeed wins the spot and Murphy is sent to the bench, what is the best option for Murphy going forward?
The easy answer would be to have him spend 2011 as the Mets' top pinch-hitter and utility man, as he could play first base, second base, third base and even (take a deep breath) the outfield in a pinch.
Should Ike Davis or David Wright ever get placed on the DL, Murphy could easily step in on an everyday basis. However, assuming this hopefully never happens, finding playing time for Murphy will not be easy, even though manager Terry Collins loves his hitting.
Should Murphy go back to the minors and work on his defense? It seems as if the ship may have already sailed on that. Murphy spent all of the Winter League and spring training trying to learn the position, but he's not a natural at second and there's always the injury risk. Besides, his hitting is major-league ready and the Mets need his bat.
Is right field a possibility with Carlos Beltran's ever-present knee injuries? Not so fast. Murphy struggled in Citi Field's fair left field area. With all the nooks and crannies in right field, Murphy would be completely lost. He also lacks the arm strength that is needed in right field.
With Jose Reyes' contract expiring after this year, he may end up getting traded before the deadline or signing with another team in the offseason. Could Murphy be a better potential short-term replacement than Ruben Tejada? No. If Murphy struggles at second base, he will struggle even more at shortstop.
Basically, as a natural corner infielder, the Mets do not have a starting spot for Murphy, for at least the next few years.
So what should the Mets do with Murphy? The answer is simple—use him as trade bait.
He can hit and he is comfortable at his natural third base position as well as first base, where he played during most of the 2009 season. However, he should only be included in the right deal.
The Mets need a premier power-hitting right fielder, an established second baseman, an ace starting pitcher (should the Santana injury get any worse) and potentially a new closer. If the Mets can make a significant deal for anything like that, they should package Murphy as part of the deal. A team with a need at first base, third base or DH would be ideal for Murphy, as those are the three positions he belongs in.
When he became the new general manager, Sandy Alderson's goal was to turn the Mets into a team that makes smart decisions for the future. If the Mets can swap Murphy for some valuable pieces, Alderson would establish himself as one of the smarter general managers to ever run the team.