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.


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. Kerel Cooper June 4, 2010 at 11:42 am
    Nice post Joe. IMO it's clear that the Mets were hoping he would pound the hell out of the baseball and get him to play as many different positions as possible to increase his trade value. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a fan of Daniel Murphy but I do feel bad for the guy. He works hard and hustles, such bad luck for him this year.
  2. Walnutz15 June 4, 2010 at 11:54 am
    Not a fan of this new comments section, Joe. Messages that used to go through w/no problem are now "too long" — and the font color is way too light!

    – PK

  3. Walnutz15 June 4, 2010 at 11:56 am
    HUGE fan of Daniel Murphy, the kid. Not so much on the over-hyped, rushed to Big League-Level sans a defensive-position version the Mets so desperately wanted to sell to the fanbase.

    As someone who dealt directly with a severe MCL tear in college (Thanks FDU), I figured Murphy was right on track – making taking a little extra time to get himself back on the field. Why they felt the need to throw him right into 2nd base, his 1st week back… anyone's guess.

  4. Walnutz15 June 4, 2010 at 7:56 am
    Granted, it took a dirty take-out slide to do this to him……but give the kid some more reps before you start with the "experiment". Realistically speaking, the Mets should have had Murphy spend a majority of the 2009 season at Triple-A, picking up a defensive trade – in lieu of anointing him their every-day LF-er.

    Guess that's what happens when you don't really want to pursue an actual upgrade…..and instead, do it a year too late (Bay). This is the Mets' M.O. Years late to the game, typically a million or two short on upgrades. I wish Murph the best of luck in his recovery, but like you – Janish – always saw him as Matt Franco with a little bit better approach at the plate. All the comparisons to Mattingly, Rose, Boggs, etc., etc. were crazy.

  5. MikeTomaselli June 4, 2010 at 1:58 pm
    I'll be honest. I was excited at the thought of Murphy playing second base. After reading this Joe I see how silly and knee-jerk it was. You are right he should have learned to play it in EST or A ball, not in Buffalo. I hope he can come back from this. I think he is a doubles hitting machine that could do well in the ML, but in the end he just doesn't have the defense to be an MLB regular.
  6. gary s. June 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm
    i blame it all on the met front office .they should have cut castillo after he dropped that pop up vs. the yankees last year.i said that in a post in this blog the next day.he embarrassed the entire organization with that drop (please don't tell me about his obp and that he played ok after the drop) .he has been limping for 2 years, has no range, no power and most met fans will celebrate when he leaves.we tried to trade him, but nobody in baseball wants him!!the wilnots will not cut a guy they owe money to, so another year of castillo is in orlando hudson, (despite him begging to come here) or other 2nd baseman who were available and would nave been a huge upgrade over this stiff.and now the final indignity and the latest chapter of the castillo curse, we put murphy at 2nd in triple a and in his FIRST GAME he gets injured on a take out slide and might never play baseball again.WHY?? because omar knows in his heart of hearts that castillo stinks and we need a new 2nd baseman, but the wilnots won't cut a guy they owe money to.seems to me, if they released him after the popup disaster, we might have a real 2nd baseman and murphy would not have had his knee destroyed playing second.
  7. Andy June 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm
    Anyone have video of the slide play? I'm just curious as to what exactly was the problem in Murph's footwork.
  8. John Fitzgerald June 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm
    I've been looking for the video… so far, nuthin'
  9. Astromets June 4, 2010 at 7:16 pm
    Not a dirty slide? Have you seen it man? I saw it on SNY twice yesterday and it is the dirtiest possible take out. I can't even call it a slide. He slides into second base, Murphy is a few feet behind the bag watching his throw – not worrying about the guy who slid into the bag – and the guy comes up and somersaults into his knee. This is NOT the Mets fault, this is a freak accident. Maybe some second baseman can react enough to get less injured, but they would have had to sense that the guy was going out of his way to take him out. Agreed, the Mets could have had him working on the DP at second during his rehab, but we don't even know that that wasn't the case.
  10. Astromets June 4, 2010 at 7:29 pm
    I guess it could have been avoided if he wasn't there at that moment, but this was completely Davis fault
  11. John Fitzgerald June 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm
    Here's the video. SNY's video player keeps jamming up on me, but the video is somewhere in this report.
  12. Andy June 4, 2010 at 8:47 pm
    Wait, Murph was BEHIND the bag? The SNY video from the Loudmouths is really choppy and I can't see anything there yet. Still not sure I can believe it was done on purpose, though. Murph is a favorite of many fans, but he's not so important to take out via deliberate thuggery.
  13. isuzudude June 5, 2010 at 1:15 am
    Thanks John!
  14. Astromets June 7, 2010 at 4:55 am
    yes, he clearly had to jump forward past the bag to take him out. intentional at Murphy? probably not, hard to say unless you are that guy. probably just intentional to take out the player and show his intensity or something. got carried away though and shouldn't have come up from the bag like that.
  15. metstoday June 7, 2010 at 5:01 am
    I don't see it as dirty, but can understand how others can — it's subjective. Bottom line is this: why the heck is Murphy on top of the base, and on the shortstop side of it? He's a sitting duck! He should've been on the CF side of the bag or the corner nearest the pitcher's mound — or, he should've continued toward 3B/SS and not tried to make the pivot. Blame is on the Mets, not the runner.
  16. mikec August 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm
    My God. The Mets need a second baseman so bad. 2011 lineup should look like: 1.Reyes 2.Pagan 3.Wright 4.Beltran 5.Bay 6.Davis 7.Actual 2Bman who can hit 8.Thole 9.Pitcher. You can not afford to have a hole in the lineup in the NL. Tejada is going to take years before he comes around with the bat, if ever. Need to score runs to win games.