James Kannengieser summed up the performance of the five guys who spent time at second base in the 2012 season in his postmortem. Daniel Murphy and the Mets' other second basemen were slightly above average with the bat. Murphy himself was closer to average, as his OPS was 10th among qualifying second basemen. This was his worst year in the majors, but just being in the upper half of players at his position seems like a positive when there is a real possibility he's a little bit better than that in 2013.
Defense is another story. You'd think that, going into his age 28 season, we'd know all there is to know about Murphy and his defense, but his position has been extremely fluid. He logged nearly all of his minor league time at third base, but in the majors has played the most games at first base, second base, and left field. He's started in 148 games at second and played in 162 there in total. Most second baseman his age have logged twice that many games and played hundreds more in the minors.
Defensive statistics like UZR and DRS rated him pretty poorly, but with so little playing time at the position, I'm not confident in what those ratings mean for his future. Just watching him, it seemed like he improved as the season went along and got more comfortable there. He didn't look great at second by the end of the season, but he wasn't a liability. He can hit, and with a little work and repetition it's possible he can still get a little better as a fielder. This makes him the favorite to man the position in 2013, especially with Sandy Alderson having much bigger problems to address elsewhere on the roster.
Minor Leagues: Help on the Way?
We turn to our very own Rob Castellano to see what the Mets have down on the farm at second base.
The pipeline for second baseman in the Mets' system is in a bit of flux, with its longtime headliner suddenly dropping off the map. I’m talking, of course, about 2008 first-round draft pick Reese Havens, who, as compared to his contemporaries, is turning out to be more Brad Holt than Ike Davis. The 26-year-old Havens was long considered the future of second base at Citi Field, yet myriad health problems got in the way. And if injuries harmed his chances, a disastrous showing at Double-A in 2012 nearly killed them. It’s premature to say he’s no longer a factor, but he’s certainly been passed by in the pecking order.
Obviously we all know about Jordany Valdespin based on his colorful exploits last season. There are, however, a couple more outside-of-the-box options to consider: The first is Wilmer Flores — a.k.a. the man without a position. His bat is nearly ready to help a lineup desperate for some pop, but the issue is where to slot the young infielder in. By virtue of the incumbents, it stands to reason that the most vulnerable major-league role is at second base — that is, if the extremely slow-footed Flores can handle it.
Another unorthodox option is young Wilfredo Tovar. While the 21-year-old is a natural shortstop, it’s tough to imagine Ruben Tejada going anywhere anytime soon. Though Tovar is light-ish on offense and only just reached Double-A, should the club opt for a defensive approach, Tovar’s plus glove would certainly look interesting next to Tejada for the rest of the decade.
Free Agent Options
Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger, Freddy Sanchez, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Baker, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, Jose Lopez, Adam Kennedy, and Yuniesky Betancourt are some of the available free agents at the position. The best of those are the two former Mets, Scutaro and Keppinger, both of whom had a better 2012 than Daniel Murphy. Both are also significantly older than Murphy, and neither is particularly skilled defensively. Freddy Sanchez missed all of 2012 with a back injury but could be an outside-of-the-box option. He's older, too, but has been a good player in the past. If the market isn't great for an older second baseman with back problems, he could make a good utility infielder, having played both shortstop and third base in the past.
Ronny Cedeno enjoyed a breakout year for the Mets in 2012. He actually enjoyed a better season than Murphy, except he didn't eclipse 200 plate appearances. He's probably not a serious candidate for a starting job with the Mets and may have played well enough to get one elsewhere, but he's certainly an extremely valuable backup middle infielder that hits from the opposite side of the plate as Murphy.
The recently released Ryan Raburn is more of an outfielder, but he does play second base, as well. He's been in steady decline and wouldn't cost much to gamble on a bounce back season. Ted Berg is already all over this one.
Your 2013 New York Mets Second Baseman
Daniel Murphy is far and away the best choice for the Mets right now. He's the best option internally over Justin Turner, Jordany Valdespin, or one of the minor leaguers. The free agent pool for infielders is thin in general, and the best options are all much older. No teams are dangling any quality second basemen for trade. It looks like another season of Murph.