Mets' Second Look Suits Daniel Murphy

You'll have to forgive me if I hold my breath regarding Daniel Murphy and second base.

As I read how Tim Teufel recently started working Murphy into the best shape of his life at Port St. Lucie this week, my relief at hearing about honest-to-goodness baseball activity barely negates my belief that the Mets should cover their projected second baseman with bubble wrap until Opening Day. Admittedly, he's probably turning two against baserunners in the Jay Horowitz mold rather than the bush leaguers looking to make a name for themselves. It was also his own footwork that brought his 2011 experiment at second base to a close with a little help from Jose Constanza of the Atlanta Braves.

It's not even the fragility that frightens me most about Murphy up the middle. It's that thinking of him trying to reinvent himself in Flushing reminds me of the Mets moving Mike Piazza or Todd Hundley out of their comfort zones to try and extract a litle more offensive value from their aging sluggers. Or Jose Reyes adjusting to the other side of the diamond while Kazuo Matsui shoddily sticks at shortstop. Or Howard Johnson looking lost in center field after making a career for himself at the hot corner.

But Teufel, who himself wasn't exactly a defensive dynamo at second base, can get Murphy on track. Right?

Make no mistake -- Murphy's the favorite to hold court at second base on Opening Day because he can hack it better than the other options. The debate isn't whether he can outhit the likes of Justin Turner or Ronny Cedeno -- he most certainly can -- but whether he can hit enough to hide any shortcomings on defense.

Maybe I'm just short-selling Murphy's defensive range at second base compared to the other options:

Season Inn Plays RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Turner 679.1 167 -7 -1.8 -11.5 -20.9
Murphy 168.1 48 2.6 -0.5 1.8 12
Cedeno 525.1 114 3.7 -0.5 4.5 12.2

Or not. It's tough to short sell anyone's defensive capabilities when their career record amounts to just over one tenth of one season. Same goes for Turner, who accumulated about a third of a season's worth of innings at second base from what the Mets assigned him in 2011 (the Orioles gave him 25 innings and all of four plays in his time in Baltimore). It also applies to Cedeno, who accrued less than Turner's time in parts of six seasons because he was busy playing shortstop.

It's a big unknown, which is probably better than what Jack Wilson offered to the Mets and certainly cheaper than what Luis Castillo or Orlando Hudson would have provided if Omar Minaya had his way. Methinks my stomach churns only because the unknown is so big; that Murphy should get as good a chance as anyone if only because realistic reinforcements aren't exactly banging down the door yet from the organization's minor league system.

Murphy set the bar of reinvention for himself awfully low in 2009 when he crashed and burned in left field, just as Piazza and Hundley and HoJo did once upon a time at their "new" positions. It remains to be seen whether Murphy's athletic or durable enough to serve as Ruben Tejada's double play partner in the near or far term, and we're a long ways away from thinking of second base without a question mark. Considering that this could be his last shot at sticking with the Mets (because where else can you play him if Ike Davis and David Wright are healthy?), he's a long shot in every sense of the word.

As are his employer, whose present sorry state grants me the ability to exhale from time to time in exaltation whenever Murphy doesn't trip over his feet on a grounder up the middle. I'm certainly not sold on him, but I'll refrain from selling him short, too.

After all, I rooted for Hundley and Piazza to pull off their new positions, too.

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