By Ernie Palladino
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While the spotlight shined on retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter at Tuesday’s All-Star Game, another local curiosity sat among the National League reserves.
Daniel Murphy was the only Met selected to the annual mid-season showcase. Given their lineup’s total body of work this year, they’re lucky they landed their second baseman somewhere. Of course, it’s now a rule that every team must be represented. Murphy’s .294 first-half average pretty much made putting him on the reserve roster a no-brainer for NL manager Mike Matheny.
That is not what makes Murphy a curiosity. It’s what happens to him in the second half of the season — more specifically, the second half of July. General manager Sandy Alderson has a decision to make on whether to keep him around or offer him up as trade bait for one or two quality veterans. Thus, the question is, should Murphy even remain part of this team past the July 31 trade deadline?
It’s not as easy a question as it seems. Murphy is certainly the team’s top hitter, having eclipsed its nominal face, David Wright, by nine percentage points. Power-wise, neither has impressed, as Wright has eight homers and Murphy seven, and Wright’s 48 RBIs total 11 more than Murphy.
Still, it is Murphy who has been the most consistent. Besides that, he’s one of the hardest-working Mets, as the natural third baseman has successfully transitioned between first base, the outfield, and finally to second base over his career. It’s no wonder Terry Collins loves the kid.
But sometimes a team has to let their most loved go, especially when building toward the future.
So, keep him or trade him?
To paraphrase Branch Rickey when rationalizing his refusal to give the Pirates’ great home run hitter Ralph Kiner a raise, the Mets are perfectly capable of losing without Murphy. The question Alderson has to ask himself is, can they win with him? Or should he be dangled to attract multiple players who can help the Mets get out of this vicious and, so far, unsuccessful cycle of rebuilding?
It’s the old formula at work: teams have to give quality to get quality. The Cubs felt they did just that when they sent off All-Star pitcher Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for the A’s first-round picks of the last two years and a veteran pitcher on July 5. Theo Epstein’s club isn’t any closer to the playoffs than Alderson’s. In fact, the last-place Cubbies are 14 games below .500 and 12 games off the NL Central lead. At least the Mets, in third at 45-50 and seven games back in the weak East, actually have a mathematical shot at salvaging this year.
Whether Alderson believes that’s a possibility will go far in determining whether Murphy stays a Met. The Blue Jays and Giants reportedly expressed interest in December, and may well have become even more entranced with him given Murphy’s strong first half. Certainly, anything he draws would probably help the current situation, but it wouldn’t be a cure-all. The Mets have many holes, and one trade alone won’t plug all of them.
It could lay the foundation for a run in 2015, though. Then again, the Mets have promised so many Phoenix-like rises in recent years that fans have begun to feel like the kid who winds up with the unwanted toy dump truck instead of the cherished pony for Christmas. There’s not a great lot coming up offensively from Triple-A, so Murphy could draw up-and-coming and veteran talent alike. But unloading Murphy would be a hard sell for a frustrated fan base. If the Mets do rebound, a lot of people would want to see the hard-working second baseman as part of the process.
So the Murphy issue is a tough decision. Keeping Murphy around would all but force Alderson to sign him to a lucrative extension, since free agency beckons after next season. We all know how the Mets like spending money.
But to get rid of one of the team’s two non-pitching favorites would also be traumatic both inside and outside the locker room.
The players like Murphy.
Collins likes Murphy.
The fans like Murphy.
We’ll see in the next couple of weeks how much Alderson and the rest of the league like him.
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