What the Mets should do with Daniel Murphy, Part 1

Daniel Murphy not-so-gracefully turning two. - Jeff Zelevansky

The first part of a two part series examining whether the New York Mets should extend or trade second baseman Daniel Murphy.

Among Mets fans, Daniel Murphy is a contentious player. They are generally split on how to view the 28-year-old infielder. To most, Murphy is a solid-hitting, hard-nosed starting second baseman, who would ideally be a super utility option on a playoff caliber team. To others, however, Murphy conjures up pure contempt. Starkly differing sentiments not withstanding, there is still a case to be made for a contract extension.

The biggest knock on Murphy is his defense. Both dWAR and UZR/150 indicated that he was a bad defender at second base in 2012. This isn't exactly breaking news. Even to the naked eye, he is often as awkward turning two as a metal-mouthed prom goer looks while fastening a corsage. But Murphy does provide the Mets with some value.

From 2009 to 2012 (he was out all of 2010 due to injury), Murphy hit .290/.333/.423 with a 107 OPS+ and 6.0 bWAR. Murph is currently on pace to best his 2012 campaign, posting a 118 OPS+ with 2 home runs through the first month of the 2013 season. For what it's worth, the Florida native is off to a good start in the field according to the same defensive metrics that knocked him last year. Perhaps he is finally learning how to play his position.

Assuming Murphy continues to play at or slightly above his assumed output, he will likely seek a substantial raise from his $2.925 million salary in his upcoming second and third arbitration seasons. To get a better idea of his financial entitlement, a good pre-arbitration comparison for Murphy might be Martin Prado.

Prado owned a .307/.356/.454 line, 115 OPS+, 8.9 WAR, and 1.1 dWAR in 1,519 plate appearances over parts of five seasons—from age 22 to 26—before hitting arbitration. Like Murphy, Prado too played multiple positions, logging time at first base, second base, third base, and in the outfield.

The former Atlanta Brave earned $3.1 million—only 5% more than Murphy earned—in his first year of arbitration, while garnering a 53.2% salary spike during his second year of arbitration to $4.75 million in his second. Even though the Diamondbacks avoided Prado's final arbitration year by handing the 32-year-old a four year, $40 million extension a week after acquiring him in the Justin Upton trade, his $7 million compensation slotted for 2013 was actually a tick below MLB Trade Rumors's arbitration projection.

Murphy might be an inferior overall player to Prado, but it's still conceivable the fan favorite/nemesis will be able to command between $11 and $13 million over the next two seasons through arbitration. In addition, aside from Robinson Cano, who will likely become the next $200 million man, there isn't much in the free agent second baseman pool in the foreseeable future. Assuming the Mets don't consider the likes of near-future free agents Mark Ellis, Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, or even Chase Utley as upgrades over Murphy, a four-year extension for Murphy in the $20 to $25 million range might be a fair agreement for both parties.

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