11:41 am Feb. 19, 2013
For roughly as long as he's been a Met, Daniel (never Dan, or Danny) Murphy has seemed on the verge of being displaced.
He was never a top prospect, taken in 2006 by the Mets in the 13th round of the draft. He was a means of providing organizational depth, and was subsequently stuck wherever the team was short of bodies.
But his hard work and seriousness of purpose got Murphy, now 27, noticed by the club and by fans, even as his defensive limitations kept them from ever adoring him unconditionally. He seldom smiles, but he never pouts.
Back in August 2008, the Mets brought up Murphy in an attempt to inject the team with offense for a stretch run that came up one game short. How long ago was that? The Mets were contenders, Pedro Martinez monitored Murphy's first interview with reporters, and the Mets thought Murphy could play left field.
As is the fashion with the Mets, they did so more with hope than with proof or preparation, putting Murphy in left field at the major league level after just four minor league games at the position. Murphy's hitting proved major league ready, with a 130 O.P.S.+ in his 2008 debut, but his outfield play fell far short of the mark.
The Mets pressed on with Murphy in left field, and he in turn worked relentlessly at learning the position. Nevertheless, his play was more than just subpar; he cost the Mets multiple games with easy drops. By mid-May, Murphy moved to first base to fill in for the injured, never-to-return Carlos Delgado.
By 2010, Murphy was considered more a placeholder at first base than the longtime solution, with Ike Davis barreling toward the major leagues. Still, Murphy would be given the first base job for 2010, at any rate. Even this proved fleeting. Murphy injured his knee in the final week of spring training, missing a month. When temporary replacement Mike Jacobs got off to a woeful start, the Mets summoned Davis. By the time Murphy healed, his place was no longer available at first. The Mets finally moved him to second base to learn the position at Triple-A. Shortly afterward, a collision at the bag ended Murphy's 2010 season with another knee injury.
2011 saw Murphy assume the role, once again, as Plan B for failure or injury. Brad Emaus began the season as second baseman and flopped. Murphy stepped in. But then Ike Davis suffered a season-ending fluke injury by colliding with David Wright, so Murphy moved to first base. Then Wright missed time with injury. Murphy spelled him at third as well. In all of these spots, he managed to hit well enough to place himself among the league leaders in batting average.
And then, in August, pressed into duty at second base for the first time in months once Jose Reyes left a game with an injury, Murphy himself suffered a season-ender thanks to a collision at the bag.
The effort to play Murphy at second base in 2012 came from a combination of not knowing where else to put him, with Davis at first, Wright at third, and too many memories of how he looked in left field. Also, as always, there was a lack of reasonable alternative options.
Murphy proved durable in 2012, playing in 156 games, and while his defense at the position wasn't great, and his hitting was below his career norms, he easily made himself the best possible second baseman the Mets have at or near the major league level.
Now, as an intercostal injury has sent him back to New York for a possible cortisone shot, the Mets can hardly do without him. If he is forced to miss significant time in 2013, the Mets don't have an alternative close to Murphy's level to use in his place. The list of would-be second basemen is: Jordany Valdespin, Justin Turner, Brandon Hicks, Wilmer Flores and Reese Havens.
It is no different across the Met infield; that is roughly the list of alternatives should Wright go down at third, or Tejada at shortstop, or Ike Davis at first. The team's infield is its strength, but that strength is quickly compromised at the first sign of injury.
Murphy is now the third-longest tenured Met on the club, and he's no longer their all-purpose contingency plan. Daniel Murphy is it.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Deron Williams is still in pain, but will play anyway.
Rasheed Wallace returns to practice on Tuesday.
The Knicks have discussed an Iman Shumpert/J.J. Redick deal with the Orlando Magic.