|Photo by Mack Ade|
Coming into the season, there was no room for Murphy in the starting lineup. He had already moved off third base years ago, in deference to David Wright. Ike Davis was entrenched at first base, the position Murphy spent most of his time at during the 2009 season. Left field was unavailable as well, with the Mets having invested an enormous amount of money in Jason Bay. Of course, Daniel's previous misadventures in the outfield were so memorable that it's hard to believe any baseball man would put him out there in anything short of an emergency again.
The best guess was that Murphy would see some time at all three of these positions, giving the starters a day off here and there. Second base remained an intriguing possibility - although Rule V pick Brad Emaus was annointed the starter initially, there was a thought that Murphy could find some playing time there as well.
As it turned out, Murphy has seen time at all four positions this year. His starts at first base and third base have mostly been out of necessity, given the extended absences of Davis and Wright. Emaus faltered and was quickly released, opening up playing time at second base as well. The results at the plate have been surprisingly good, enough to overshadow any defensive liabilities.
Murphy had been manning third base on a daily basis since the beginning of the month but with Wright back in the fold, one of the avenues he has been taking into the starting lineup has been closed off. Murphy figures to shift over to first base now, where Lucas Duda had been seeing time, but will likely get a few starts at second base as well.
With Davis likely out for the season after yet another comedy of errors by the Mets' training staff, Murphy's playing time for the rest of the 2011 season seems to be guaranteed. The questions about his future, then, will begin anew in the off-season.
The outfield remains off-limits. Bay is signed for another two years and is in no position to switch to center field or right field to accommodate Murphy. The corner infield positions are out as well - Wright and Davis surely aren't going anywhere. Murphy will not be playing shortstop, no matter what the Mets decide to do with Jose Reyes.
That leaves only second base, where Murphy would have to fight off Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada in the short term. The minor-league system is potentially deep at second base, so even if Murphy wins the job in 2012 there may always be a hot-shot youngster breathing down his neck.
The temptation to cast Murphy a utility player is always there, but it's not to hard to understand why a 27-year-old player might resist the label. His 2009 season at the plate was not particularly good, especially since Murphy showed little patience at the plate in putting together a .313 OBP. Still, cracking 38 doubles certainly hinted at the possibility of a potent bat, one that would play very well in the middle infield.
Patience remains a problem in 2011 - Murphy has only 21 walks in 366 plate appearances. Still, he's hitting over .300 and is on pace for nearly 40 doubles again. Even if Murphy never learns to take a walk, he would be a valuable offensive asset batting sixth or seventh to any team willing to put up with sub-par defense at second base.
Are the Mets going to be that team?
It's a strange scenario - Murphy's greatest value may lie as a utility player with the Mets, but it's safe to say that he could start at second base for quite a few teams across the league. If given a choice between the two, it stands to reason that Murphy would rather play every day than go begging for time as a backup.
Murphy, then, may be more valuable as off-season trade bait than in a Mets uniform. It will be curious to see how Sandy Alderson chooses to answer the question of Murphy's future with the Mets.