12:07 pm Apr. 10, 2012
Sure, Daniel Murphy had the game-winning single to beat the Washington Nationals Monday night, 4-3.
But everybody knew Daniel Murphy could hit. If it turns out that he can play second base, too, the Mets could have the makings of an all-star.
Which is what makes his diving stop of a Ryan Zimmerman grounder, followed by a toss to a covering Ruben Tejada at second base to earn a force, every bit as important a play as his big hit. Not only did it preserve the tie that Murphy then broke in the bottom of the inning, but it served notice that he might actually be able to stick as a starting infielder.
Murphy has tended to be lumped in with Lucas Duda, the offensively potent, defensively challenged right fielder, in analysis of the 2012 Mets. That's awfully unfair to Murphy. Duda is a slugger more than an athlete, a hulking presence who'd be best served as a designated hitter, or if he must appear in the field, at first base. The Mets are hoping, not absurdly, that his bat can compensate for his glove. But that is a good bit different than thinkin Duda is particularly likely to achieve proficiency at the position.
Murphy, however, has been shifted around the field, often with little notice, and still performed pretty well. Oh, to be sure, his left field adventure was a disaster. A natural third baseman blocked, obviously, by David Wright, Murphy was given four games in left field suddenly in August 2008 at Double-A Binghamton, then asked to come up and assume the role of starting left fielder in 2009. Unsurprisingly, he struggled, and the Mets quickly abandoned the experiment after 27 games, shifting Murphy to first base.
But Murphy, despite being asked to learn another new position on the fly, excelled defensively at first base. He had some notable gaffes, which would make sense for someone learning a new position, and which normally would have happened in the discreet comfort of spring training. Instead, Murphy became known as the man who couldn't play any position at all.
"I feel very comfortable at second base, yeah," said Murphy as he stood at his locker on Sunday. "They gave me a good deal of reps in spring training. I got to work with Ruben, I feel comfortable over there. Still got a ways to go, but I'm starting to feel more comfortable at second base."
Really, the question of how Murphy will do at second base has as much to do with his ability to stay healthy as his fielding prowess. Sent to Triple-A to learn second base in 2010 (again, after playing a different position for all of spring training) a takeout slide in his second game ended his 2010 season. The same thing happened at second base in 2011, with Murphy going from May 10 until August 7 without playing second base, then getting inserted mid-game at the position after injuries had left the Mets short-handed. An inning later, his season was over again.
Atlanta's Dan Uggla, whose offensive profile is similar to Murphy's has made a career of fielding just well enough at second base to keep himself in the lineup. He's made two all-star teams, and is in the second year of a five-year, $62 million contract.
If Murphy can merely field as well as Uggla, he could do as much as Uggla has for himself and his team. If Murphy plays defense like he did last night, it's possible that he could do a great deal more.