I know conventional wisdom says the Mets, a financially strapped team that is at least another season away from contention, should almost certainly hold on to a guy like Daniel Murphy, but I can’t help but think they’re best off trading him this winter.
First and foremost, this is assuming the Mets have completely buried the idea that Daniel Murphy can be an everyday second baseman (or at least the better half of a platoon). In which case, Murphy is most valuable as an everyday third baseman. By keeping Murphy on the bench, the Mets fail to maximize his utility. In other words, for those not familiar with economic jargon, he’s more valuable to another team than he is to the Mets, so long as David Wright is still around.
Of course, a lot of people contend that Murphy would prove quite useful and accumulate plenty of at-bats as a “super-sub.” While the whole Ryan Freel-esque “super-sub” idea sounds really good in theory, it’s flawed and doesn’t really jive with the composition of the current Mets roster.
For one, even if it were the case that Murphy could collect 300-400+ at-bats in a utility role, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s more valuable to another team where he’d accumulate 550-600 at-bats. In other words, an average everyday player provides more value than the best utility player. It’s the same reason why it’s usually ill-advised to move a valuable starting pitcher to the bullpen. (In fact, moving an everyday player to the bench is probably worse; at least pitchers are almost guaranteed to improve their performance if converted to relief. Many hitters’ productions would suffer with more sporadic playing time).
Further, the Mets would be hard-pressed to find playing time for Murphy as a backup. Murphy can play first and third reliably, but David Wright — barring injury — will play every day unless a brutal slump necessitates he take a day off. Ditto Ike Davis, and both Murphy and Davis are left-handed, so he can’t even spot Davis occasionally against a tough southpaw like Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.
Murphy can probably play second occasionally, so there’s that. Than again, we’ve seen what happens when Murphy only plays second every now and then. He can maybe — maybe — play the corner outfield, though, like Davis, he and Duda are both left-handed. Murphy’s defense will undoubtedly negate a lot of his value in the outfield, so it isn’t that hard to find a fourth outfielder, ala Scott Hairston, that could provide similar value.
Which begs the question, what really is the value of Murphy’s versatility? While Murphy’s offense (.750-.800 OPS.) is definitely an asset at second — and given the declining state of third base, at the hot corner as well — he doesn’t really provide much value anywhere else. Like I said, fourth outfielders aren’t that hard to find. Murphy’s offensive production is below average for first basemen, and there are plenty of AAAA mashers out there who could probably provide the same offensive production at first. And we’re only talking occasional playing time, so marginal differences in value don’t really make a huge difference
Perhaps I’m being naïve here, but the whole value of versatility seems pretty overblown. After all, instead of counting on one guy to be your backup at almost every position, wouldn’t having a solid fourth outfielder, a slick-fielding middle infielder, and a backup first baseman/pinch hitter extraordinaire accomplish the same thing? Maybe having a super-utility guy allows the team to carry an additional bullpen arm, but a National League team still has to carry at least a four-man bench regardless.
Some people will argue that the Mets should keep Murphy around in case Wright/Davis/Bay/Duda or whoever gets injured. But it’s stupid to keep Murphy around solely because of the possibility that someone might get hurt (especially since none of those players are particularly injury-prone), at the expense of trading him for say, another starter, an outfielder, etc. that you know will play everyday.
Again, if the Mets think Murphy can hold his own at second base, then it makes a lot more sense to hold onto him. His UZR last season was actually quite good at second, although we’re talking about a very small sample size. Having seen his past two seasons derailed by injuries at second base, I imagine the Mets are quite skeptical.
This is also assuming the Mets don’t, of course, trade David Wright instead. At the very least, however, I don’t expect Wright to be dealt before the beginning of the season. Because his 2013 option is voided if he’s traded, Wright’s a one-year rental this year, and a one-year rental the following year to the team that trades for him, and it makes little sense for the Mets to trade him now, as Wright is coming off his worst season and the walls are finally being moved in to accommodate Wright. Although, on the flip side, if Wright merely repeats his 2009-2011 performance, despite the new Citi Field dimensions, his value will not hold steady, but further decrease, since such a season would pretty much confirm the fact that Wright will never re-approach his 2005-2008 MVP-caliber seasons.
What exactly could Murphy fetch in a trade? It’s hard to say, but given production at third base is the lowest it’s been in over a decade, now might be the best time to capitalize on his value.
If the Phillies fail to sign Michael Cuddyer, Murphy could be a very attractive option for the Phils. Murphy appeals to the Phils for the same reasons they are interested in Cuddyer: he could play first base until Ryan Howard returns, and replace Placido Polanco at third, and even occasionally play left or second. Ideally, the Phillies would want a right-handed bat to balance out their lefty-laden lineup, but otherwise, Murphy certainly dovetails with what the Phillies are looking for.
What could the Mets get? Here I think are a few potential options.
Daniel Murphy for Vance Worley
I think a Murphy for Vance Worley swap could benefit both teams. Worley isn’t as good as his 3.01 era. last year indicates, (3.66 xFIP) but a potential cost-controlled number three or four starter is still quite valuable.
Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell for Domonic Brown
Ok, this might be a bit too optimistic on my part. The Phillies situation with Brown, however, reminds me a lot of the Mets situation with Lastings Milledge four years ago. Not to say Brown will be a bust like Milledge, but Milledge was a similarly highly regarded prospect at the time the Mets dealt him. The Phils appear to have soured quite a bit on Brown the past season, and do not seem willing to commit to him as their everyday left-fielder next season. As the Mets did by trading Milledge to the Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, the Phils would be trading Brown’s potential for two more dependable (not to mention cheap) options for next season, at two areas they could use improvement at (first/third base and bullpen). It wouldn’t be the first blunder Ruben Amaro’s ever made.
What do you think? Does it make sense to keep Daniel Murphy around? Why or why not? Let’s discuss in the comments.