Daniel Murphy has been one of the few bright spots on some bad Met teams the last couple of years. Through a great deal of hard work, Murphy has become a solid second baseman, and his hard-nosed approach to the game has earned him a place in the hearts of many Met fans. While all this is understandable, I feel that some have lost sight of what Murphy really is, instead spouting off hogwash about how we can’t lose a hitter who "knows how to hit at Citi" whilst lobbying for an extension. Yet if we look objectively at what Murphy is and what he will give us in terms of production, a trade looks more and more appealing.
We all know what Murphy gives you defensively at second base. He’ll make some spectacular plays one day, leave you scratching your head the next, and in general, show mediocre range. All of this adds up to below-average marks from both UZR (career -6.0 UZR/150) and DRS (career -11 Rdrs/yr). These values will likely decline as he ages, but it’s not outlandish to believe that Murphy can be at least passable at second base for the next three to four years. Just don’t expect any additional value in this department. Murphy’s defensive limitations ultimately mean his value with his bat will have to supply the majority of his overall value.
To project Murphy’s offensive contributions, let’s look at some similar players. Baseball Reference offers a great tool providing comparable players based on offensive statistics. The table below shows eight of the 10 most comparable hitters to Daniel Murphy through his age-28 season. I’ve removed numbers four (Bill Barrett) and five (Billy Werber) as they both played in the early 20th century, a completely different era of baseball. The average is weighted by PAs (not shown due to space).
Murphy’s numbers are remarkably similar. Through age 28, he’s within two points of the average wRC+, and his age-29 season is within 3 points. Two data points hardly indicate a direct correlation, but the subsequent production for the field of comparable players is probably a decent projection for Murphy going forward.
Interestingly enough, these values are very similar to the Oliver projections for Murphy. Oliver predicts a 102 wRC+ for Murphy next year before he dips below 100 and posts marks of 97, 95, and 92 for his age-31 to age-33 seasons. I don’t love Oliver projections, but in this case they do compare favorably to the actual production of players similar to Murphy. In total, both systems predict that Murphy will be a league-average hitter next year before declining to below-average levels as he moves into his 30s.
These data tell us that Murphy is not going to be an above-average hitter relative to the rest of the league. Of course, Murphy plays second base, so perhaps this lesser version of Murphy would still be an asset. Alas, this does not appear to be the case. Using Oliver as a WAR calculator, Murphy projects to be worth slightly less than 2 wins next season with a very favorable defensive score of –0.7. Given that Murphy’s career-high defensive mark is –0.3 this season in a small sample, which is far better than his career mark, expecting a –0.7 defensive value until Murphy’s age-33 season is not realistic. With this in mind, Murphy projects more as a 1-win player by the time he’s 31, if not sooner.
However, these projections are dealing with the future, and right now Murphy is on pace for a 3.0–3.5 WAR season at second base with a 112 wRC+ (that number incorporating his most recent slump). Murphy’s left-handed bat could very easily be an asset for a contending team with a hole at second base or third base, and there seem to be plenty of potential suitors for his services; the Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Giants all are getting bad performances from their current second basemen. Though reported interest has been limited to date, things could very easily heat up as we come down to the trading deadline. Murphy’s value is as high as it’s ever going to be, and there is an appreciable market for his services—there probably will never be a better time to trade Murphy.
This has all been without any mention of the Mets' organizational depth at second base. I am not a fan of Wilmer Flores—his high-contact, weak-swing approach warps his numbers in Vegas even more than the average hitter. However, he clearly gains little to nothing from remaining in Triple-A any further, and as one of the better prospects in our system, he needs to get a shot at the major league level. With Tejeda playing a (barely) passable shortstop, Flores offers an immediate replacement if Murphy is traded. Matt Reynolds is another short-term option, though he has cooled off in Vegas after a hot start. He projects more as a utility infielder, but giving him a chance to hold down a starting job is probably worthwhile.
Lower in the system, Dilson Herrera has been tearing it up. Even with the obvious BABIP and small sample size caveats, his Double-A numbers are beyond impressive. Hitting .344/.405/.542 with 4 HR and 6 SB in 148 PA, good for a 160 wRC+, Herrera’s stats make him one of the best players in the Eastern League at the tender age of 20, and he certainly looks the part of a future fixture at second base.
Given that Murphy’s value is at a peak and that the Mets have several cost-controlled, MLB-ready replacements with arguably greater upside, extending Murphy would seem a mistake. Murphy probably commands a 3-4 year deal at $30-40 million this offseason, his own comments about taking less money notwithstanding. With the limited financial resources the Mets have at the moment and our wealth of talent at second base, giving a complementary player like Murphy that kind of money for the decline phase of his career is certainly not worth it.
It’s time to trade Daniel Murphy.