Entering the 2012 season, the New York Mets had two players they hoped would learn new positions well enough to justify their bats in the lineup. One was Lucas Duda in right field. The other was Daniel Murphy at second base.
The verdict is in on Duda; he failed to hit nearly enough to justify what was a league-worst glove in right. He’s back at Triple-A, where he will play left field and first base.
But what about Murphy? It would be too optimistic to call it an unqualified success, but the Mets certainly have to consider the Murphy experiment at least a marginal one.
So far this season, 21 players have qualified for the batting title while playing at least half their games at second base. Among those 21, Daniel Murphy is fourth in OPS+, with his 116 above everyone but Neil Walker (119), Aaron Hill (125) and Robinson Cano (150). It is also right in line with his career mark of 113. So Murphy has hit about as he always does; the learning of second base didn’t impede his offensive performance, or at least, didn’t impede it sufficiently to bring him below career norms.
But what of the defense?
UZR has him at -15 runs over 150 games, easily the worst in baseball. But even so, put together, Murphy has been 13th of those 21 second basemen in WAR, at 1.5. He’s been a net positive because of the offense he’s provided at a position without much of it.
Exactly how easily the Mets can improve on this next season has a lot to do with whether they think Murphy will improve at the position at all. His offense isn’t likely to go anywhere. He’ll earn a decent amount as a first-year arbitration player this winter, but not a ton. Can the Mets find a 2-3 win second baseman for comparable money? (Probably not.) Can they spend more to get one? (Probably not.)
All of which points to Daniel Murphy back at second base to begin 2013, unless the Mets prioritize a longer time window, and can get something substantial for Murphy. His offense, incidentally, would rank him eight in MLB at his natural position of third base, so a number of teams could trade for him to upgrade at that position. And lest we ignore the elephant in the room, if the Mets can’t afford to keep David Wright long-term, they could deal Wright and have a low-cost, reasonable third base alternative in Murphy.
Hopefully, however, they find a way to keep Wright. And if they do, they could certainly do worse than Daniel Murphy at second base for another year.