Daniel Murphy: What Position?

No one really disputes the fact that the Mets will be looking to trade Daniel Murphy. It is a team with weaknesses, while the one position where Murphy has excelled so far, first base, now appears to be the province of Ike Davis.

Murphy lost that first base job due to a knee injury, but as he prepares for a return to Triple-A Buffalo, the Mets still don't seem sure about where to play him. Here are the various positional options, along with what kind of trade value Murphy will likely provide should he take to them, from best to worst:

Second base: this is the best the Mets can hope for, and should be the position Daniel Murphy plays with Triple-A Buffalo. If Murphy can become merely adequate at the position, his bat profiles extremely well for long-term success at the position.

As a group, major league second basemen posted an OPS+ of an even 100, while Murphy, in his first 707 plate appearances, has an OPS+ of 103. In other words, Murphy, should he fail to develop any further as a hitter, would already be an above-average hitting second baseman. That would draw quite a bit of trade interest, and with the Mets lacking an obvious internal option to fill the position long-term, could even keep Murphy with the Mets.

Third base: The case here is similar to the one for second base, with some additional pluses. Like second basemen, third basemen hit for just an OPS+ of 101 in 2009, so Murphy is already an average bat at the position. Another advantage is that Murphy was a third basemen through most of his minor league career- 196 of his 230 defensive games in the minors were played at third base- so this would represent the least difficult transition for Murphy, defensively.

The case against is that a move to third base would only be a preliminary move to trading Murphy, with the current position on the Mets obviously taken.

First base: This is one of the three lesser options the Mets can take. On the plus side, Murphy showed he can clearly handle the position of first base defensively last season- despite some gaffes that naturally result from being thrown into a new position midway through a baseball season, Murphy posted impressive defensive numbers there.

The big problem is how his offense translates to first base. As a group, first basemen had an OPS+ of 125 last season. Considering that Murphy's career OPS+ is 103, it is unlikely, but not impossible, for Murphy to improve to the point of being an average offensive first baseman. But with second base and third base options for Murphy as well, this seems like a strange fit.

Left field: This one makes very little sense. Murphy, simply put, was not a left fielder when given the every day job out of spring training in 2009. His numbers were poor, and his instincts seemed particularly ill-suited for the position.

What's worse, his offense doesn't fit in left field, either. Left fielders had an OPS+ of 108 last year, meaning that Murphy's bat profiles a bit below average at the position. And unlike first base, where his defensive prowess can help make up some of the gap, in left field, Murphy would likely have to hit a good bit better than average just to break even.

Utility player: This option has some upside, with Murphy filling in at multiple positions at Triple-A in preparation for a utility role with either the Mets or another team. But it would seem to stunt his development further.

Keep in mind, Murphy has played all the positions mentioned above, but none of them exclusively for any period of time, keeping him from learning to play in one place, while allowing him to focus on developing as a hitter. Asking him to juggle so many positions may well keep him from becoming a hitter that can best help the Mets, let alone drawing interest from other teams.

And more to the point: if the Mets are showcasing him for a trade, what was the last time a team received a ton of trade chips in exchange for a utility player?


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