Who Should Really Be Auditioning at 1B

1b-teeAfter 65 games at first base, Dan Murphy has shown he can be defensively adequate at the position. Other than a few brain farts and errors due to inexperience, Murphy is, right now, better than Mike Piazza ever was at the position.

If the Mets are serious about going into 2010 with Murphy penciled in as the starting first baseman — or even if they’re not — there is another player who should be getting reps at first base:

Gary Sheffield.

Matt Cerrone has stated that “… if Sheffield is on the Mets next season than something went very wrong this off season…” But I beg to differ.

First of all, I don’t expect anything to go “right” this offseason. The Mets have more question marks at the end of this year than they did after the 2008 campaign came to a close. And you saw what last winter brought — a setup man with a bum elbow, 3/$36M for Oliver Perez, and an emptied farm system — that’s just for starters. This winter, the Mets have more needs but less money and fewer trade pieces. That said, these late-summer auditions have significant importance in terms of planning for 2010 and the moves made prior to next April.

The Mets put Sheffield on waivers and pulled him back, which suggests that either they’re planning to do something with him next year, or they feared he would not report to the claiming team. Whatever the case, he’s still a Met, and it should be discovered right now whether he has a future in the orange and blue.

I agree with Matt Cerrone in this sense: if the 2010 Opening Day lineup has Gary Sheffield in left field and batting cleanup, then yes, something strange has occurred. But, there’d be nothing wrong if Sheffield was the #1 righthanded bat off the bench — and if he was a combination fourth outfielder / backup first baseman.

Despite his advancing age and ailing hamstring, Sheff holds his own in the outfield. He’s no Cory Sullivan out there but he’s an upgrade over Fernando Tatis. But, to keep him healthy, and to have true value to a club, Sheffield either has to be on an AL team so he can DH, or he needs to play 1B. He cannot be expected to be an everyday outfielder, but it’s within reason to believe he can garner 300-350 at-bats in a more versatile role — one where he plays RF, LF, and 1B, and is “the guy” pinch-hitting in late innings.

But we don’t know if Sheffield can play as adequately as, say, Murphy, at first base. A stunted and inconclusive 9-game experiment in the Bronx is the whole of his pro experience at the position. The time is now to start putting him in there, get a look at him for 25 games or so, and see if it’s something he can handle without embarrassing himself. Rumor has it he has a brand-new first baseman’s glove, so it’s already on his mind.

And while Sheff’s getting reps at 1B, why not see what Murphy can do at third base? There’s nothing more Murphy needs to do at 1B — defensively — to convince the Mets one way or another. With David Wright out of action, wouldn’t it make sense to see Murphy at his “natural” position? After all, if the Mets surprise everyone and sign someone like Adam LaRoche to handle 1B, that will leave Murphy without a job — unless he’s versatile. I can easily picture Murphy as a LH-hitting Don Money or Mark DeRosa — a super-sub, if you will — playing almost every day but at different positions.

The Mets have continually been burned by setting positions in stone, and then being caught without adequate replacements. With nothing for the Mets to play for this summer, it’s time to turn lemons into lemonade — use these last 40-odd games as an opportunity to create more versatility and value on the roster.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. gary s. August 20, 2009 at 10:11 am
    joe, i hate the idea of sheffield coming back period.he’s moises alou all over again.it’s just a matter of when he would get hurt.probably one stretch at first and he’d end up on the dl.he played better than i expected this year, but it’s time to cut him loose and get younger.
  2. joejanish August 20, 2009 at 10:54 am
    Gary, I love the idea of Sheffield coming back. Fragility is hardly an issue to pin on him, considering that he’s one of the few still standing.

    If the Mets are dumb enough to pay him $8M, then yes, he’s Moises Alou all over again. But they won’t (they can’t afford to), and if they can get him on a really cheap salary — say, the $2.2M they gave to Tim Redding — then why not? If he gets hurt, he gets hurt, but tell me where else the Mets are going to get his kind of bat to come off the bench? Not from their farm system, that’s for sure. Anyone comparable from the FA market is going to cost more $ and more years.

    The Mets’ problem is that they put all their eggs into one basket. They have to get out of the mindset of signing an Alou or a Delgado and praying he stays healthy, or hoping that Dan Murphy will become Wade Boggs in left field. They will have to bring in AT LEAST one power bat over the winter –and it’s not going to be Matt Holliday. Rather, it’s going to be someone cheaper and older, like a Bobby Abreu. As much as we’d like to see the Mets “get younger”, there’s little chance of it happening. How? Where? They’re not going to commit to “rebuilding mode” because it’s not what the Wilpons do. So why not also bring back Sheff as a backup plan, just in case? If they have him around, they don’t have to panic if the FA signing busts his knee, or Nick Evans craps the bed, or if Murphy keeps hitting .250, or if F-Mart doesn’t make a giant leap in terms of development and durability.

    Some quality depth on the offensive side would be nice, for a change. If the Mets had any MLB-ready outfielders in the minors I might think differently.

  3. Mike August 20, 2009 at 11:58 am
    Joe this is pretty much the exact scenario I had in mind for Murphy and Sheffield. I simply never thought of Sheffield at 1b, but you make a good argument and I agree with you about it. I think what this year has shown me is that the Mets have some decent and capable backups to work with.

    If you bring back everyone on this current roster and put back the injured starters that leaves LF, 1b and C has places you can possibly upgrade. Kick out Delgado and Schneider and realistically bring everyone else back (not talking about the pitching staff, that’s a mess I can’t begin to clean up). Sheff as a RH bat off the bench, Murph as a super sub, defensive replacements with decent enough bats in Reed and Sullivan, a potential RH power bat and somewhat super sub in Nick Evans, Alex Cora we love as a backup, Anderson Hernandez is capable enough, Omir Santos is a decent backup catcher, Angel Pagan can bring some life for a few weeks at a time, and Tatis can deliver the occasional big hit. Try to tell me that that crew is not enough between AAA and the bench to be the backups and role players. I would probably add another capable infielder with a decent enough bat and probably another catcher. My point is if this year has shown me anything its that this current lineup is full of decent bench and role players, I’d just keep adding depth and bringing along what youngsters are worth considering.

    If they find a capable 1b, LFer, and catcher this roster depth can be almost enough.

  4. mic August 20, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I thought about this for 5 seconds and then decided to write something.

    1. I disagree with you. I want Sheff in RF/LF thats it. I want his bat off the bench. I want late inning power. With his limitations (age/health)I think thats fair.

    2. BUT I think you are going in a nice direction with your post specifically a large scale evaluation of bring back or not to bring back.

    3. Last year the talk was of the lax Mets, the lazy Reyes and Beltran, well it looks like Reyes, beltran and delgado were the nucleus. …Now are we going to break up the nucleus? Who is the new nucleus? Frankly I AM GLAD there is no Derek Lowe not at 60M. So who COULD be 3@ next yr…John Lackey?

    4. which fringe players then remain?

  5. Brian August 20, 2009 at 6:02 pm
    I loved when the Mets got Sheffield, even though it cost, and has continued to cost, Nick Evans major league tryout time. I still like him back as long as his recent remarks about being dropped aren’t a sign of bad things to come. My problem is that you seem to want to do what has been pointed out that the Mets seem to overdo, have a team of utility players.