Where does Murphy fit?

Posted on April 30, 2010 by

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Red, white and blue pins labeled “I Like Ike” have been standard fare amongst New York Mets fans these days, and for good reason. The Mets rookie first baseman has impressed early with the bat and glove.

Yes, Ike Davis certainly looks like he may have a long career as the Mets’ first baseman. But what happens with the man he has filled in for, and likely replaced?

Daniel Murphy lost the luster to his star potential after a less than stellar performance in left field early in 2009, but Murphy had earned the 2010 starting gig with above average defense, some power and an incredible work ethic.

Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, he suffered a grade 1 sprain of the MCL in his right knee in a rundown during the final week of spring training. He has been on the 15-day disabled list since March 31.

According to published reports, Murphy was running without a brace and taking ground balls laterally on April 20, but still had no timetable to return. He was swinging a bat in the cage by April 28.

The fact of that matter is Murphy will recover eventually, probably sooner than later, and he is back to being a hitter without a position. First base seemed to work well with him, and lessons from Keith Hernandez likely helped, but now that bag is covered. What can the Mets do with Murphy?

One idea that fans of the team regularly offer is send Murphy back to the minors, teach him to play second base and have him replace incumbent Luis Castillo, preferably as soon as possible. The concept is at least partially rooted in reality.

Castillo will be 35 in September and has long last much of his range in the field. The botched pop up last year, his .245 average in 2008 and $6.25 million salary don’t help his cause. On the other hand, Castillo’s salary makes him an unlikely candidate for the bench and many teams reportedly have not been interested in trading for him. Castillo has also continued hitting this year – .279 after their sweep of the Dodgers.

To add to the dilemma, middle-infield prospects Ruben Tejada and Reese Havens may end up in Flushing before long.

Another suggestion that gets floated about is to make Murphy a utility man. Again, there may be some merit in this argument. Mets officials had Murphy play at several positions during his three years in the minor league system.

In 2008 alone, he played 64 games at third base, 17 games at second base, 13 games at first base and four games in left field with Double-A Binghamton. He earned a .989 fielding percentage at first, the best of all four positions.

His work ethic helped him eventually find a temporary home at first, and he may become a serviceable defender as a corner infielder, maybe even at second or in left field with a lot of work. But when asked in mid-April, Murphy gave all the right answers about being the next Joe McEwing.

“I think eventually if I have to do so, I can play a good outfield or another position. That’s going to be something that’s always going to be up to Jerry’s discretion,” Murphy told ESPNNew York’s Adam Rubin. “It’s just more bullets in my gun. And if I’m able to play other positions, it gives the manager more flexibility. Maybe it might give me a few more at-bats.”

The numbers through his limited major league career suggest he may be comfortable with hitting infrequently, but a closer look warrants questions. Through 204 games in two years, Murphy hit .317 in 41 appearances as a pinch-hitter, .280 in 218 at-bats as a left fielder and .268 in 380 appearances as a first baseman. But the young man went through a metamorphosis last season, shedding his low-power, high on-base percentage routine for a higher-power, higher-strikeout and lower-average mentality.

His defensive struggles in the outfield may have also affected Murphy, who hit .260 in 100 appearances as a left fielder. His pinch-hitting numbers also took a hit; he had a hit in just one-quarter of his 28 at-bats.

The only other obvious answer is to trade him. The Mets have a couple of glaring needs, including a starting pitcher who can reliably go six innings or another 3rd/4th outfielder with Carlos Beltran still injured. The catch here, Murphy is still damaged goods and the Mets likely won’t get anything of value if they trade him immediately off the DL.

One way or another, he will have to get some major league playing time to prove he remembers how to handle a glove and bat.

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Posted in: Perspectives