The [Mis]treatment of Daniel Murphy

Within the New York Mets’ community, Daniel Murphy is a polarizing figure.

Amongst those who lean on descriptors such as “grinder,” “gamer” and “gritty” to base their opinion of a player, Murphy is a poster child for the banal “how the game should be played” proverb.

After all, the 29-year-old owns a career .291 batting average (and a park-adjusted 109 wRC+) at a position that rarely sees such offensive output. And despite his overzealous—albeit, very poor—antics in the field, Murphy does take his defense seriously.

Yet, for the detractors who prefer to belabor Murphy’s career 6.3 percent walk rate and minus-31 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) at second base, his oft-dirtied jersey isn’t reason enough to peg him as a “core” player.

Regardless of where a fan falls on the #ImWith28 spectrum, however, Murphy’s short-lived future with the team has little to do with his positive or nonexistent skill sets. Instead, the mistreatment of Daniel Murphy—a player that, if he played in a normal environment, would be a notable role player and asset—is yet another unfortunate product and casualty of the Mets’ financial woes.

To Murphy’s credit—and perhaps to the chagrin of David Wright—the infielder has proved to be the Mets’ most productive hitter in 2014.

Even though the Mets are in a five-way tie for 22nd in baseball with an 89 wRC+, Murphy has led the charge with a .298 batting average, 119 wRC+, six home runs and 11 stolen bases over his first 340 plate appearances. The left-handed batter has also walked at an 8.2 percent clip, which represents a career best (in a season with at least 300 plate appearances).

In addition, Murphy’s 119 wRC+ this season ranks 8th best among second baseman (with at least 200 plate appearances) and more impressively, his combined fWAR from 2011-to-present ranks 9th.

2011-2014
Player PAs fWAR
Robinson Cano 2361 21.2
Dustin Pedroia 2407 19.1
Ben Zobrist 2305 19.1
Ian Kinsler 2381 15.5
Chase Utley 1649 13.1
Howie Kendrick 2004 12.7
Brandon Phillips 2264 12.7
Matt Carpenter 1408 10.5
Daniel Murphy 2063 9.2
Neil Walker 2010 9.0

Offensive feats notwithstanding, the Mets continual stance against extending Murphy is a curious one.

Murphy is set to earn a sizable raise from $5.7 million in 2015—his third and final arbitration-eligible year. Considering the Mets’ belief in the Florida native’s expendability, forking over around $8 million in arbitration could easily be construed as a boondoggle for a team with limited dollar sources. And with Wilmer Flores already on the major league roster and 20-year-old Dilson Herrera’s recent promotion to Double-A, the Mets technically have exciting depth in a prospective, post-Murphy era.

But only a franchise with crippling finances could have such a shortsighted and foolhardy view of extending any player of value. Similar to how the Mets extended R.A. Dickey in January 2011 and traded him less than a year later, extending Murphy now—and thus adding relatively team-friendly years of control—would unequivocally increase his trade value.

And regardless of how Murphy is viewed within the Mets’ organization, his value to another team is currently untapped. Given the Kansas City Royals’ decision to hand 32-year-old Omar Infante—a career 91 wRC+ hitter and 3-DRS fielder at second base—a four-year, $30 million free-agent contract this offseason, there’s little reason to think the Mets couldn’t flip the younger, superior Murphy to another team right now, in 2015 or beyond.

Specifically, the Mets should use the six-year, $72.5 million extension the Cincinnati Reds handed Brandon Phillips in 2012 as somewhat of a boilerplate. Mets’ general manager Sandy Alderson could tempt Murphy with a three-year, $32 million extension, perhaps additionally featuring a $14 million team option for 2018 or a $3 million buyout.

The prospective contract would guarantee $35 million in total (or $11.66 million per season through 2017) for Murphy, while providing the Mets—or a potential trade partner—a productive player through age 32 and at a slightly-under free-agent market value.

Barring a fundamental change in the organization’s outlook on Murphy’s value, the six-year veteran appears destined to be left out of the Mets’ Noah’s Arc of untouchables. And as fans of a team that haven’t witnessed a winning record since 2008, it’s difficult to not buy into any maneuver Alderson executes toward upholding his rebuilding vision.

But apparently the fans aren’t the only ones excited about how the Matt Harveys and Brandon Nimmos will positively affect the morale and win column in Flushing.

“You see an organization heading in the direction that we’re heading [and] it’s an exciting time,” Murphy said in an interview with MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. “[Y]ou always want to be a part of that. [I want] to be a part of the solution.”

 

All statistics—including metrics like wRC+, fWAR and DRS—were sourced from FanGraphs. Any contract information sourced from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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2 responses to “The [Mis]treatment of Daniel Murphy

  1. As a second baseman, Murphy’s offense is great. But the question is how long can he play there? He’s already bad now.

    If he moves off second, then where does he go? His value comes only from playing second. As a 1st baseman or corner OF (or DH) he doesn’t have outstanding offensive numbers. (.758 career OPS) He’d be average, and as an average or decent player I’m not sure he’s worth 12M. He certainly wouldn’t be a bargain, or be helping his trade value.

    Now he might still be worth the money as the gritty veteran, sparkplug, and general good guy. But those qualities aren’t valued on the trade market. If you are signing with the intent of trading him, then anything over $10M is too much. You might even argue that Infante’s deal is what you should be shooting for.

    Or you could continue to wait to see how Flores pans out. If Flores continues to under-impress, becoming a Quad-A player rather than the answer at 2nd, then revisit keeping Murphy around.

    • I agree that his offense at second base is the basis for his value and him switching positions (especially permanently) would be detrimental to it.

      But as stated in the piece, his value within the organization might be different than how other teams perceive it. So while the Mets might prefer a slicker-fielding second baseman, it’s quite possible another organization is more willing to sacrifice defense for offense.

      And especially for AL teams, they might even like the idea of playing Murphy at second base part-time and then at first base or designated hitter in other situations.

      Due to this, I think Murphy would command far more than Infante did on the open market. Thus, locking him up with a reasonable extension–as is the case with any player of tangible value–is always a good idea.

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