Jun 22, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy (28) connects for a base hit during the third inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

To Contend, Mets Must Keep Daniel Murphy

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The Mets cannot trade Daniel Murphy – not if they are serious about contending.

Not when they have the third worst OPS in the majors and threaten to finish among the bottom two teams for the second straight year. Not when their shortstop is hitting .236 and their catcher is fresh off a demotion to Triple-A.

Not when their franchise player is slugging a career worst .396 and certainly not when their manager refers to a 40-year old who sat out 2013 and hasn’t been a productive every day player in four seasons, as a “run producer.”

Because this year the Mets aren’t supposed to be “sellers” at the trade deadline. Because 2014 was the year Sandy Alderson’s plan was supposed to finally come into place and the Mets were finally supposed to start mounting a run at the playoffs.

The notoriously patient and wry GM said as such when Matt Harvey had his surgery last August, he confirmed it through the trials of winter by his free agent signings, and as the season has dragged on, reports have indicated that the Mets have stuck to the mantra: after five dreary seasons of rebuilding, the Mets are done being sellers.

But if the Mets trade Daniel Murphy, then what exactly are they planning on buying?

Murphy is by both traditional measures – average – and advanced ones – WAR – the Mets’ best hitter, and he’s under team control through at least 2015 at a relatively cheap price. For an offense-starved team like New York, what short-term benefit could be accrued by trading away your biggest run producer?

No rival team is likely to give Alderson immediate offensive support in exchange for Murphy. A return package would almost certainly be comprised of either young pitching near or at the major league level, or position prospects.

New York, though, doesn’t need pitching; they have it in droves.

Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, and Bartolo Colon are all established starters under contract through at least 2015. Ace Matt Harvey will return next season, and Zack Wheeler and Jacob DeGrom have both shown tremendous promise over the course of their brief careers. Below them, top prospects Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard are on the threshold of the majors.

As it is, the Mets already have a a playoff caliber rotation; their 3.68 ERA is the eighth best in the majors.

Granted, you can never have too much pitching, as evidenced by the injuries and struggles of several of the aforementioned starters, but clearly the Mets are not starved in this department.

On the other hand, New York could in fact use some hitting prospects. Their farm system at the upper levels is relatively sparse in this area. Trading veteran hitters for prospects, though, would be selling, just the thing Alderson and most every report from the Mets’ camp has insisted this front office would not do.

Prospects are risky and even if they pan out, there’s no guarantee they will do it on a schedule. It took Chris Davis five big league seasons before he became a star, Carlos Gomez needed six.

And those are the better cases. Oftentimes, the prospects bust entirely.  Good luck finding an All-Star jersey with the names of Lastings Milledge or Fernando Martinez emblazoned on the back.

The Mets need hitting now. The Amazin’s have scored the 10th fewest runs in all of baseball, and the only reason they don’t rank lower is sheer luck. They have hit a major league high 60% of their home runs with men on base. Like much of so-called “clutch hitting,” that is an aberration that will normalize with time.

Trading away their most professional batter is likely not going to help anything. If they want to be buyers, they should be buying from a point of strength to fill a point of weakness, moving young pitching for established hitting.

Or, if the front office wants to build in a similar fashion to the Rays and Athletics, and hoard their young pitching – as some reports have indicated they intend on doing – that’s fine, too. Oakland and Tampa, however, scarcely ever traded away prime hitting. They have opted instead to move established starting pitchers, dealing Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, James Shields and Matt Garza.

Following their path would mean shopping Bartolo Colon for a young bat. Such a move could bolster the Mets offense and would be rather sensible. Although Colon is on the books through next season, at 41 and in questionable shape, his continued health and effectiveness are far from guaranteed.

The Mets have not said they will trade Murphy, only that they will listen to offers. But even that seems folly, a diversion from their primary goal of adding offense.

Going forward, it won’t matter if the Mets have a rotation reminiscent of the ’98 Braves or the 2013 Astros. If they don’t score runs, they’re not going anywhere. Right now, with most of the team, including David Wright, underperforming, Daniel Murphy is the closest thing to a star caliber hitter New York’s got.

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