The Mets need to shake things up, as the 79 wins they had last year will not make them contenders this year.
The landscape of the National League has changed this offseason. The Braves have traded away Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis to get younger, but they seemed to be the only playoff contender that became sellers this winter. The Padres reworked their outfield by accumulating multiple power bats, the Cubs and Pirates improved their rotations, the Cardinals added defense, and the Mets' division-rival Marlins upgraded at both second and third base. The Mets need to add wins, but with most impact bats now off the market, their only route seems to be through the trade market.
While Sandy Alderson has been frustratingly stubborn about trading away young pitching, he acknowledged that he could move a few major league pieces in order to improve the team. With that in mind, let's investigate the trade value of Daniel Murphy, the Mets' only All-Star in 2014. In order to do that, we'll use the return that other second basemen netted this offseason as benchmarks.
Murphy is set to become a free agent following the season. This is his final year of arbitration after earning $5.7 million last season and making his first All-Star team and will be due to make about $8 million this year. Is that a good value for Murphy?
The answer seems to be yes. Murphy had a 2.0 bWAR last season and 1.5 in each of the previous two years, while his 2.8 fWAR in 2014 and 3.0 in 2013 were impressive. The market value of a win is up for debate, but most analysts feel that it falls in the range of $6-to-8 million. Averaging the two WAR values for 2014 and projecting that to 2015, Murphy should be worth something between $14.4 and 19.2 million, which is pretty well below the $8 million he will earn in arbitration. This obviously ups his value.
Now, let's see what the Mets might expect in return for Murphy's services, based on the current second base market. First, the Braves traded Tommy LaStella at the start of the offseason for reliever Arodys Vizcaino, a hard thrower in the minors who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Listed below are the other second basemen that were moved this offseason, their respective WAR, and the main player received for each of them.
Howie Kendrick: 2014 fWAR: 4.6 // 2013 fWAR: 2.7// 2014 bWAR: 5.4 // 2013 bWAR: 3.4
Netted: Andrew Heaney
Dee Gordon: 2014 fWAR: 3.1 //2013 fWAR: 0.0 // 2014 bWAR: 2.4 // 2013 bWAR: -0.2
Netted: Andrew Heaney (plus others)
Martin Prado: 2014 fWAR: 2.6 // 2013 fWAR: 2.4// 2014 bWAR: 2.1 // 2013 bWAR: 1.3
Netted: Nathan Eovaldi (plus others)
Daniel Murphy: 2014 fWAR: 2.8 // 2013 fWAR: 3.0// 2014 bWAR: 2.0 // 2013 bWAR: 1.5
Murphy doesn't compare perfectly to any of these other second basemen, but they share some characteristics and their WAR are somewhat similar. Unfortunately, many of those other second basemen are valuable for reasons that Murphy isn't. Kendrick is valuable for his all-around game play, both on offense and defense, and is clearly the best second baseman on this list. Gordon is valued because he is dirt cheap (and entering his first year of arbitration), he has the type of speed that can spark offenses, and he can play shortstop as well. Prado is valued for his defensive versatility and his solid bat. While Prado is a bit more expensive, $10 million per year for his services is still clearly a bargain, and he comes with two years of team control. Unfortunately, Murphy is outstanding in none of these categories. He is cheap, but not as cheap as Gordon, and doesn't offer Prado's team control. Murphy is also impressive offensively, but not as good as Kendrick has been for the last two years.
While Prado probably offers the closest WAR comparison, Murphy's profile—all offense and no defense—is very different from Prado's. Prado is a versatile defensive player and produced nine defensive runs saved in 2014, compared to Murphy's -11. This is a market that values defense, evidenced by such moves as the Cardinals' trade of a potential star in Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward, and the Blue Jays signing of Russell Martin to a huge contract. Unfortunately, the stigma of terrible defense has been attached to Murphy ever since his first year in the majors. And, although he has improved over the years, Murphy is still subpar defensively compared to the average second baseman.
All told, the Mets may have the wrong perception of the second baseman's value in the current market. Despite outperforming Prado for the last two years, Murphy would probably net the Mets less than Prado did for the Yankees. Prado brings that versatility that Murphy does not have, and he comes with an extra year of control. Therefore, despite the fact that Murphy was an All-Star, expectations should be tempered regarding his value as a trade chip.
Sandy Alderson wouldn't get a high-powered arm like Andrew Heaney for his second baseman, who Steamer projects to produce 1.5 WAR this season. Heaney struggled after reaching the majors, but was the Marlins' number one pitching prospect and has ace upside. More realistically, Murphy would net someone like Nathan Eovaldi, a fourth starter-type with upside, who is cheap and young. The Mets could also explore trading Murphy for a hard-throwing reliever or a minor league position player with good upside.
For example, the Mets could flip Murphy to the White Sox, who, after trading Marcus Semien, have a hole at second base. One candidate to fill that hole is Carlos Sanchez. Sanchez, the team's tenth best prospect, is a good defender who can also play shortstop if needed. While he has struggled a bit offensively, he is young, cheap, and talented. Sanchez alone wouldn’t be enough for Murphy, but if the White Sox were willing to package him along with a pitcher like Francellis Montas, the Mets should definitely consider making that trade. At best, Sanchez could be a solution at second and, at worst, a very good defensive replacement. Montas would also be a great asset to the Mets, despite their existing pitching depth. Montas is the White Sox' number three prospect, can hit 99 on the radar gun, and has an impressive slider. While he projects to be something of a number four starter, Montas has the velocity and movement to be a dominant reliever if he doesn't pan out in the rotation.
The Mets could also petition the Blue Jays, who have had a massive hole at second base for a few years, to trade some of their young depth for Murphy. If the Mets could pry either Devon Travis—the youngster that Toronto got from Detroit this offseason—or Aaron Sanchez from the Jays, they should probably pull the trigger. Sanchez made his MLB debut last year and put up a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings pitched. He also showed promise in the minors and was actually once thought of by the organization in the same light as Noah Syndergaard. The Mets should attempt to acquire Sanchez, who I see as more of a back-end bullpen arm, while Toronto is stacked in the rotation and in need of a second baseman. If the Mets can’t get Sanchez, Devon Travis is worth a shot as well. Travis is still refining his skill set, but he's an all-around player who can hit, get on base, steal some bases, and play solid defense at second base. His ability to make hard contact is impressive and he reminds me of Daniel Murphy, with a little less pop and better defensive skills.
For what it's worth, Wilmer Flores's UZR at second base last year was five points higher than Murphy's in an incredibly limited sample size; moreover, Flores could grow as a hitter. Perhaps the Mets could slide Flores over to second and flip Murphy for a shortstop.
At this point, it's looking increasingly likely that the Mets will take their chances on Flores and Murphy up the middle. But if the Mets do try to move Murphy, we need to be realistic about his trade value in the current market. Daniel Murphy can net the Mets a talented player, but not one who is likely to make a huge immediate impact.