The Dan Murphy Disaster
Last year on this blog, I wrote about the Dan Murphy Myth. As a result of my “negativity” (I called it “realism”), many people thought I “didn’t like” Dan Murphy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I was merely being realistic about the kid’s skillset. To me, he was a so-so MLB hitter with no speed, below-average instincts, suspect strike zone judgment, slow feet in the field, and hard hands. I always felt his absolute ceiling was comparable to Mike Hargrove or Mark Grace, but more likely Matt Franco.
We may never know for sure whether Murphy had a chance to be Mark Grace, because his latest knee injury will have him out for the year — and potentially end his MLB career. The real shame, though, is that it didn’t have to happen this way.
Murphy’s original knee injury at the end of spring training was a freak accident; it could’ve happened to anyone. But his most recent MCL tear was avoidable.
Consistently, throughout Murphy’s rehab in extended spring training in Port St. Lucie, Mets management insisted that Murphy would only play first base. The reasoning was that the priority was his health. Once healthy, they might consider shuffling him around to be more versatile. This was the mantra while every baseball media outlet was suggesting that Murphy would soon become a “super utilityman”, and every commenting Mets fan was screaming for Murphy to replace Luis Castillo at 2B.
So it was a surprise that Murphy was suddenly playing 2B in Buffalo, after only 6 games at 1B. Mind you, Murphy received little — if any — practice at the keystone prior to June 1.
There is speculation that Murphy’s second knee injury of the year was another “freak accident”, and/or that Leonard Davis made a cheap and dirty slide to take him out. Both arguments are nonsense.
For those who have been to minor league games, you know that there is a much different intensity than is seen at the MLB level. Young men who are motivated by the brass ring of million-dollar contracts and a truly “big-league” lifestyle play a much harder, selfish, cutthroat, raw style of baseball than the one played by best-buddy multimillionaires seen every day on TV. Davis might have slid hard into Murphy, but it wasn’t personal, and it wasn’t unusual — it’s what he (and many other minor leaguers) does every night as his goal to be among the fittest in the game of survival. There are dozens and dozens of players just like Leonard Davis, doing whatever they have to do to win a baseball game and catch the eye of a scout.
The Mets should have known better, and not thrown Murphy and his already fragile knee into this fire. They repeatedly stated that he’d stay at 1B, so what made them change their mind so suddenly — and so dangerously?
In a pregame interview with Ed Coleman last week, manager Jerry Manuel admitted that the Mets’ goal for Murphy was to turn him into viable trade bait, by making him more versatile. Considering the Mets’ disastrous starting rotation, uneven play, and lack of help from the arm, a trade is necessary to fill critical holes. Combine that with Luis Castillo’s ailing feet, and their decision to rush Murphy into a utility role was a typical knee-jerk move stinking of irresponsible desperation. The thought was, “hey, let’s stick him at 2B, hope he keeps hitting, and hope nothing bad happens”. But something bad did happen — so bad that it might effectively be the end of a young man’s MLB career.
The Mets’ lack of foresight and reactionary, force-feeding decision-making process are not new — they’ve marked the Omar Minaya era. Is there any logical reason why, when Murphy was in Port St. Lucie, he was officially banned from taking ground balls at any position other than first base? Wouldn’t it have made sense to have him work with someone like Sandy Alomar, Sr., Wally Backman, or Kevin Morgan, on footwork and other techniques around the bag, in a non-competitive situation, while he was down there? If they were serious about making him a “utilityman” and teaching him second base in particular, wouldn’t it have made more sense to keep him in Florida, working intensely and regularly with one of the aforementioned coaches — or an external, short-term hire like Roberto Alomar, Jose Valentin, or a similarly adept and experienced former MLB second baseman? Such an expense is a smart investment for a club with a $140M+ payroll, that is also desperate to develop “trade bait”.
Maybe if the Mets “stayed the course”, Dan Murphy could’ve learned the second base well enough to get by. More importantly, he might’ve learned it enough to survive more than 16 innings at the position.