Spring training is winding down and important decisions are being made that will shape the upcoming season. More cuts were made by the Mets this week as they optioned Tobi Stoner, Nick Evans and Jason Pridie to Buffalo. Ike Davis was amongst that group that will be shuffling off to Buffalo as the Mets felt that he would benefit from more at bats at the minor league level. Davis made a lasting impression this spring hitting .480 in 25 AB’s with 3 home runs, despite never having a plate appearance higher than Double A. The Mets will be watching Davis closely since he is the future heir of first base forecasted for next season if not sooner. He has the potential to be a prototypical big thumper of a first baseman which is what the Mets desperately need since Carlos Delgado is no longer in the picture.
There’s a bevy of candidates that the Mets can slot in at first base in the meantime. Fernando Tatis is capable of playing the position and Frank Catalanotto is fighting for a bench spot but he too can play the bag. Mike Jacobs also has experience at the corner position and brings thunderous power but has holes in his swing. He has a 74% lifetime contact rate and a 23% strikeout rate so his bat could be considered a liability. And what’s nice about Jacobs is that he could fill in as an emergency backup catcher which is a nice lagniappe (favorite Cajun expression for a little something extra; a bonus). There’s also Chris Carter who is turning heads with his bat but not so much with his glove as Eno outlines here. But Daniel Murphy has the inside track on the position with 101 appearances at first base last season. He was defensively adequate and if you keep track of such things, had an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 4.7 runs above the average first basemen. But nobody will be confusing Murphy at any point in time with Keith Hernandez. In fact, Hernandez has spent time with the 25 year old Murphy to improve his skills at the position and perhaps it is paying off as Murphy has been perfect through 11 games and 91 total chances this spring.
But it’s not only Murphy’s glove that needs to perform well, it’s his bat too. Last year, he batted .266 with his stick and squeaked out a wOBA of .318. He managed to hit 12 home runs. While this doesn’t compare with the other power hitting first basemen in the game, it was more than most of his teammates were able to manage as a home run spotting for the Mets was about as rare as spotting a vegan sitting down for a meal at a Brazilian churrascaria. Spring has not been kind to Murphy as he has only been able to muster a .162 average and two extra base hits. However, spring is a time for tuning up as pitchers are usually ahead of the batters. Batters are working on their timing and with about two weeks left before the season opener, Murphy still has time to find his stroke.
Murphy will need to start the season strong and will be given a fair amount of latitude to succeed (or fail), but the aforementioned Davis is waiting in the wings and the performances of both players will dictate how soon that transition will occur. With luck, Murphy can fend off Davis for the full season, but his play will have to be above the level that we saw from him last year. Whether it’s this season or next season, Murphy will relinquish the position to Davis and then the question becomes what to do with Murphy? He played left field at the beginning of last season. Maybe he can play there? Oh, wait. There’s a guy named Bay out there now who just signed a long term contract. Murphy played a lot of third base in the minors. Maybe he can play there? Oh, wait. There’s a guy named Wright who plays there that practically has to be tied down to keep him out of the lineup even when baseballs are being launched at his head.
And then there’s second base. It’s a possibility that is intriguing and one that has been mulled over by management already. Murphy played some second while in the minors and may be able to perform with some degree of aptitude. However Luis Castillo is still there and despite the Mets’ best efforts, they have not been able to shed themselves of Castillo or his contract. If the Mets can move Castillo somehow, perhaps Murphy might be a consideration for second base, but his fielding may hinder him from excelling at the position and may prevent him from serious consideration.
Once Davis arrives, Murphy may be relegated to pinch hitting duties, an occasional first base start but he will essentially become a player off the bench. If it gets to that point, the best option for the Mets may be to trade him which may provide Murphy an opportunity with another team. But he essentially becomes a man without a position and may find himself on the outside looking in. For now, Murphy will be the guy at first base, but he has to know that not too far down the road his days are numbered as the starting first baseman and possibly numbered as a Met.