On the heels of the news they are likely holding onto Ike Davis instead of trade him away this winter, we also heard Mike Puma of the New York Post say the same for second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murph has drawn interest from a handful of teams; the Padres were willing to part with reliever Luke Gregerson to acquire the left-handed hitter last July, but the offer was rejected, as New York would not part with their infielder for a reliever.
Since there isn’t a lot of payroll flexibility for Sandy Alderson to work with this winter, which means New York may have to deal someone they would rather not trade away, in order to get what they need. A natural third baseman, Murphy is now playing his third position with New York; the outfield was a disaster, he acclimated to first base quite well, but once Davis returned from injury, there was no room for him there, and after a rocky start, he’s settled into second base rather nicely.
The primary motivation for having Murph in the lineup is for his offensive abilities; Terry Collins needs him to produce at the plate, while being serviceable in the field so he doesn’t negate the runs he produced with his bat with his glove. He finished 2012 with a .291/.332/.403 line, including 6 homers, 65 RBI, and 40 doubles. Although his home run production wasn’t quite the 10-15 the Mets were hoping this season, his ability to hit the ball in the gaps for extra base hits makes him very valuable at the top of the order, as I view him as a perfect fit for the second spot in the lineup. There would be plenty of teams who would be elated to have a 27-year-old, hardworking ballplayer that can hit doubles consistently on their squad. However, Alderson is against trading him to bring in some more talent. When Jordany Valdespin is available to take his place, why wouldn’t they pull the trigger on a deal?
The organization doesn’t view Valdespin as a worthy replacement for Murphy at second base right now, and he shouldn’t be. In 94 games played and 191 at-bats in 2012, Jordany hit .248/.286/.424 with 8 homers and 26 RBI. Does he have a world of talent and potential at the young age of 24? Absolutely, but he’s not ready to take over the second base job full-time. For me, he needs to show a lot more patience at the plate before he’s awarded a starting job. He did only walk 10 times in those 191 at-bats, but I don’t necessarily need to see him draw more bases on balls to prove he’s become a more patient hitter.
A prime example is what I said about Ruben Tejada earlier this week; his walk total in 2012 decreased from what it was in 2011, and even though he may have seen fewer pitches per plate appearance, he showed a lot more control of his swing within the strike zone, not chasing after balls he couldn’t handle, allowing him to make solid contact on a more consistent basis. That’s what Valdespin will have to prove before the Mets decide he’s part of their long-term plan. Toward the end of the season, we saw him not swinging at as many balls in the dirt, and he continued that trend at the start of his winter ball season as well.
Alderson said yesterday he may be looking at the bottom portion of the free agents, which is not surprising given all the things he’s said about New York’s lack of payroll flexibility. So, I still think a great pickup would be Jeff Keppinger, because he could provide quality depth at second base. He did have a fantastic season (.325/.367/.439), but I would be surprised if he commanded much more than the $1.53 million he made in 2012. If he was signed and took over the starting job at second base, that’s another right-handed bat to even out the lineup, while allowing Murphy to be that super utility player he’s seems to be a good fit for. If Murph is better suited as the starter, Keppinger can be that super-sub, as he played first, second, and third base last year in Tampa Bay.
It’s understandable to not trade away Murphy because he’s a productive offensive bat, but that doesn’t mean Valdespin should be on the Big League roster as the backup middle infielder, either. He needs to be starting in Triple-A, working on his pitch selection.